We’re gathered together in this chapel
as mourners for Cheryl Hanna.
Shall we celebrate her life or mourn
her death? Today, we have the difficult
task of doing both.
Today it is once again a chapel—
a Greek orthodox church—a place
where we seek solace, a place where
we search for the meaning of life
and—of death. And a place where
we receive comfort.
We do not mourn alone.
Our very presence here, sitting
shoulder to shoulder is a form of
healing. We embrace one another,
as we wipe the tears from our eyes.
Our collective arms go out to Cheryl’s
family. We embrace you, each
one of us, and all of us together—
you have our love, our support, and
an unlimited supply of hugs. Turn to
us, not only today, but in the harder
The depth of Cheryl’s loss is magnified
by the breadth of her life.
Her death leaves an enormous
vacuum because she lived life
large—with such joy, enormous
energy, and great generosity. Everyone
is here because in one way or
another we have been touched by
Cheryl’s life. Each of us sitting here
can still see her face, her large eyes
looking straight into ours and open
to the world.
Always containing a spark of
excitement. She was so much alive
that it is hard to digest the reality
of her death. It was so entirely unexpected,
it was truly “untimely”—a
life half lived.
She was—and it is difficult to say was instead of is—at the prime of
life. We ask ourselves questions—
Why? And what if?
There are no answers. Not even
in the black box that will remain at
the bottom of the sea. No one—not
even the scientists who study the
human brain, can fathom the battles
that take place in the human soul.
Cheryl had her demons, but she
kept them under lock and key, hidden
from us. She conquered them
every time she changed a student’s
life, every time she wrote an illuminating
journal article on constitutional
law, on domestic violence
against women, and even when she
graduated cum laude from Harvard
She was a brilliant lawyer and
she used her brilliance well. To
change the world. There is a Hebrew
phrase, tikkun olum—that is our mission
on earth—to heal the world.
She lived by it.
Her world view focused on both
the ordinary and the extraordinary.
She was passionate about the Girl
Scouts—learning how to sew while
she was teaching the girls how to
sew, serving as a Girl Scout leader
and on the Girl Scout council.
Reviewing her résumé, one can’t
help but be astounded. Surely, she
was overextended, surely she should
say no sometimes—but that was her
life—to extend herself to every nook
and cranny where she could make a
difference for women and children.
I can attest that she did say
no once, to me, when I asked her
to serve on the board of Emerge
Vermont. But I easily convinced
her to be on the Emerge advisory
council. We had a mutual admiration
relationship, Cheryl and I.
She looked to me as a mentor, but
frankly, she needed little mentoring.
Still, I was there for her from time
to time when she sought my advice,
and that of my husband, John
Hennessey. But she inspired me in
return, as she did so many of you.
One time, when she admired
what I was wearing—and Cheryl
liked to dress well—she told me she
had walked into Marilyn’s clothing
store in Burlington, and said, “I
want you to dress me like you
do Madeleine Kunin.”
When we look at the wide expanse
of her life—one theme runs
through it. She was a passionate
advocate for women and girls—she
took every opportunity to fight for
women’s equality, to cut away the
bonds that keep women down and
build the platforms that raise them
up. That was her inspiration and
we—all of us—are the beneficiaries
of her life’s work.
And now, it is our turn to carry on
her cause. That is what Cheryl would
have wanted, that is why her spirit
is hovering over us. We can do it, in
small ways and large—whether we
mentor and befriend a young girl,
whether we testify before the legislature
on paid sick days, or whether we
applaud another woman for her courage.
And that was Cheryl’s hallmark—
she had the courage to speak, to take
action, to take what she saw wrong
with the world, and make it right.
We all have that capacity—let us
grasp it in the memory of Cheryl
Hanna, and create a living, breathing
memorial to her—by fulfilling her
dream—of full equality for all.