A Voice That Soars, Spurs, & Soothes
To meet Vawn Gretta Stearnes, MA ’20 in Sacred Music, is to encounter somebody who is larger-than-life — and to wonder how that fantastic voice and all that passion got packed into one personage. But that’s today. And there were years of before.
Hurricane Harvey Rescue
If you heard an unidentified emergency siren during the worst of Hurricane Harvey’s flooding, there’s a chance you know the vocal power of Stearnes. Trapped in the rising waters of her mother’s home, and amid the roaring noise of the downpour, Stearnes frantically signaled a passing rescue vehicle using the only communications tool that was strong enough to be heard — her singing voice.
Stearnes recalled, “Nobody heard me yelling, so I began singing the highest notes my lungs could put out. The man with the truck started grabbing his ear and looking around till he saw me and screamed ‘I see you and I’m coming!’”
A Thank-You Moment: Listen as Stearnes Sings Amazing Grace to Houston City Council
Rescuers saved Stearnes, her three children, and her mother. Their heroic actions prompted her to go before Houston City Council and deliver a jaw-dropping performance of “Amazing Grace.”
Being saved from one disaster only marked the onset of a different one. She and her family had no home. She had to put her precious UST master’s degree studies on hold. And one year later, her job as a high school music teacher was eliminated.
By then, hardship had become a familiar companion. Stearnes’ journey had been fraught with personal and professional ups and downs. Her memories, starting in her youth, contain troubled relationships involving physical violence, substance abuse, and heartbreaking deception.
Yet, her love of music, the creative arts, and that marvelous voice could not be stifled. She wrote and produced inspirational books and plays and continued to sing and teach music. To this day, her upbeat outlook cheers everyone she meets.
“I always trusted that God would take care of me,” she said.
And God always has.
While jobless, UST offered Stearnes her current position as graduate programs engagement coordinator, a professional role she still loves. With a steady income, the talented mom could resume pursuing her graduate degree under the mentorship of a professor she greatly admired.
“Dr. Brady Knapp always had my best interests in his heart and encouraged me. He told me, ‘That voice should be in front of an orchestra,’ and he showed me how to improve my singing technique. Then, he let me spread my wings and take on challenges. He’s brilliant.”
Hurricane Harvey to COVID-19 College Journey
Stearnes is among the 438 UST graduate students receiving their master’s degrees in an unconventional manner due to pandemic precautions. Though she won’t get to march, she is proud of herself.
“That I completed this advanced sacred music degree is a miracle, and I tell people every day that you too can achieve your dream.”
Going forward, listen and watch for Stearnes’ mark in the world. She has messages to share and a drive to shout them from the highest hills.