By Emily Temple, The Whetstone
Wesley College students and faculty expressed shock last Wednesday when they learned of the death of an alumna the day before.
Alainna-Caitlyn Earl died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Sept. 6, surrounded by her family.
Although her condition was unknown until the third week of July, her mother, Cheryl Earl, said Alainna had been struggling for longer than anyone knew.
“She had fought very hard, for a very long time,” she said. “She had to have been fighting this for over a year.”
Throughout her senior year, Alainna experienced symptoms such as coughing and fatigue, but avoided seeking medical treatment, Cheryl Earl said.
Some of Earl’s close friends said they may have noticed these symptoms without realizing their severity.
“She started having coughing spasms,” said senior Jake Bradner. “She claimed it was heartburn, but now I don’t know whether it was or not. A friend and I had to escort her to her room one night, but we hung out the next day and she was fine.”
Students remember Earl’s active engagement in campus activities, especially Campus of the Nerds, an organization she founded.
“She was a leader,” said senior Emily Fiore, one of her roommates at Wesley. “She started Campus of the Nerds because she wanted a club on campus where everyone who had the same common interests could hang out.”
Senior Terrance Olivo said Earl inspired confidence in others through her leadership in Campus of the Nerds.
“Every single time we discussed what we were planning to set up, she was adamant about getting it through, getting it to work, and figuring out exactly how it was gonna go,” Olivo said. “I think it brought out a lot of confidence in me, which I am very thankful for.”
When Alainna stepped down as president of the organization, Olivo took on the role. Even after her presidency, she remained interested in its success.
“She fought tooth and nail for Campus of the Nerds,” Bradner said. “She loved it.”
Earl was enthusiastic about “nerdy” activities, even outside of her organization.
“She insisted that we come to down and help her pick a costume for Halloween,” Cheryl Earl said. “She came home last year so she could find a coat, so she could be [Malcolm] Reynolds from Firefly.”
When Alainna, an English major, first came to Dr. Jeffrey Gibson’s office as an advisee, they bonded over a shared interest in comic books.
“Our first meeting in my office, she noticed the Radiohead posters on the walls and the different superhero and comic book things on the shelves,” Gibson said. “We had something in common from the very beginning.”
Her favorite comic book hero was Batman.
“She was always telling us that Batman and herself were never seen in the same room together,” Fiore said.
Earl also left an impression on many for her dedication to academic excellence. She graduated Magna Cum Laude.
“In class she was often quiet, I think because she was listening to other people,” Gibson said. “She didn’t want to dominate conversation, but was always willing to share her opinion if prompted, or if the opportunity was there.
“When she spoke in class, everyone listened.”
Professor Victor Greto said even though journalism didn’t come easily to her at first, she became a reporter he believed could write news as a profession.
“I am thinking of one article she wrote that took her weeks to research and write and that finally made the front page of the Whetstone,” Greto said.
“She did not say much about it – except, in my office, after it was all over and I congratulated her on all the work she put into the story. She smiled – shyly, of course – bowed her head and said, ‘It was worth it, you know?’”
Professor Brian Cass said she entered the band in her sophomore year with only a little knowledge of playing the piano, and became a leader by example as she learned the baritone.
“The original thought was to put her on the keyboard,” Cass said. “But she wanted to learn how to play something new, so that’s what we did.”
Senior Kia Smith, another member of the marching band, said Earl was a team player.
“We were both part of the lower bass instruments,” Smith said. “So she always knew what to ask if someone needed help.”
Lanice Patterson and Leah Eubanks-Mattress, two of her roommates while at Wesley, say Earl always loved music.
“We would always spontaneously start singing songs,” Patterson said. “We were like a radio all day because we would just keep singing.”
“Alainna used to make up lyrics if she didn’t know them,” Eubanks-Mattress said.
Her favorite bands were Radiohead and the Beatles, and she loved using music as a cure, Bradner said.
Her parents said Wesley College became her home from the first time she stepped on campus.
“She loved the school because she was always doing something, joining something,” Cheryl Earl said. “Whenever she joined something she always put everything into it.”
Alainna was active in writing for the Odyssey Online, a site for student writers to post weekly blogs. Emily Bentz, a fellow English major and Wesley’s Editor-in-Chief for the Odyssey, said she brought something special to the site.
“Alainna’s writing wasn’t just good, it was real,” Bentz said. “While other people were writing humorous lists or letters to their friends, Alainna wrote raw articles about her sister leaving for the military, how to live a more positive life, and living with anxiety and depression.”
In one article, Alainna said she was ready to move forward into graduate school.
“I don’t want to pay student loans, and I don’t want to wait too long to go back to school,” Earl wrote.
“I think I’m beginning to find out many things about myself. I’m not sure if I’ve found the real Alainna or if I even know her. I think I’m building her – piece by piece.”
Alainna was accepted into graduate school at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with full tuition, her parents said.
Fiore and the Earl family set up a GoFundMe page to cover funeral costs and medical bills, as well as going towards a Wesley College scholarship. At press time, the page has raised $2,545 of its $10,000 goal with donations from students, faculty, and family.
A candlelight vigil will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16 on Wesley campus. A viewing will be held at Bennett Chapel the next day from 9-11 a.m., and the funeral will follow from 11-1 p.m.
Co-Editor-in-Chief Brittany Wilson contributed to this article.