Peers and teachers continue to mourn loss of Anna Burns
On September 13, the Amherst community lost a beloved friend, Ultimate player, runner, skier, environmentalist, outdoor enthusiast, engaged student, and more in Anna Burns.
Burns went into cardiac arrest at the end of a cross country race in Ludlow, Mass. and though EMTs tried to revive them, they never regained consciousness. Their organs were donated a week later so that others would be helped by their loss.
In their obituary published on everloved.com, Burns’s parents wrote, “Anna’s wide interests made them a part of many communities and many hearts. We know that Anna means much to you, and the love we all feel for them is important to express, capture, and hold onto.”
While students and teachers at ARHS took the loss of their friend and classmate very hard and the grieving continues, people have been buoyed by positive memories of Anna and reflecting on the lessons they learned from knowing them.
“They were always really supportive, and really helpful whenever I needed anything,” said one of Burns’s friends, Caroline Lambert-Mergandahl, when asked to describe them. “They’d appreciate gifts, but they’d also appreciate just being able to talk about stuff.”
Another close friend, Cyrus Bouton Donovan, mentioned Burns’s caring nature. “They cared a lot about the people they were around,” Bouton Donovan said. “Anna always remembered special things. They showed up at my house on my birthday with a box of cookies. Whether it was cookies or a walk through the woods, they just wanted to be there.”
Junior Julian Camera talked about Anna’s humor. “My last interaction with them was when I stole their peanut butter jar because I thought it was funny,” he said. “They just gave me a dirty look until I gave them their peanut butter back. That’s a pretty funny summary of Anna’s humor.”
Burns’s friends also touched on their nature as a leader. “They were in my gym class last year,” said Megan Nicolaou. “It was PE 10, so we had to do team-building stuff, and if I didn’t have them there, it would’ve been so much more awkward. Anna would often lead our entire class.”
Staff also remembered Burns as an unusually engaged, insightful, and thoughtful student and friend.
English teacher Amanda Lewis distinctly remembers Burns’s uniqueness in their writing. “They were in my first English class in the fall in person after the pandemic,” Lewis said. “They really loved poetry. That was something they talked about from the very beginning of the school year.”
Lewis added that “the ways Anna toyed with the pieces they wrote really stuck out to me. I’ve been rereading some of their writing and I’m really struck by how playful and fun some of the writing was as much as it also dives deep into hard things from their life.”
According to Lewis, “the experimentation and joy in their writing from a student of that age is something I find very special.” Lewis noted that that was a mark of their character, an ability to “struggle with hard things and the violence of the world” while also showing a “commitment to finding joy.”
Burns was celebrated on Sunday, November 6, at a memorial service held at the Montague Retreat Center from 1-5 p.m. Scores of family, friends, classmates, and community members came to pay their respects, sing, read poetry and remembrances, and fondly recall Anna’s life and their profound impact on others.
Anna’s mom, Sarah Goff said she was “deeply moved” by the tributes and stories people shared. “It was an outpouring of love and support. It really lifted our spirits that day and we hope it helped other people who knew and loved Anna too,” she said.