Family and Friends of Alejandro J. Gutierrez '05
Theatre Scholarship Memorializes Alum Who “Walked Without Borders”
[Published October 2015] “There are some students you have in your life … you never feel like they’re younger than you or less worldly than you. They feel more like friends,” said professor of Theatre and Dance Mairzy Yost-Rushton. “Alejandro was one of those.”
In May of 2009, Theatre graduate Alejandro Gutierrez ’05 died in Chicago of a brain aneurism. He had turned 27 just months earlier in the city he made his home after graduation. The news shocked the faculty, staff and students in his former department.
“It was just devastating,” said associate professor of Theatre and Dance Nicole Mattis. “We had just gone through this with Jennifer Johnson (’04) six months earlier and of the same thing: a brain aneurism. Seeing these students who had just had their lives ahead of them, who had given so much to our department … it was just unfair and unjust.”
When Johnson passed away, her parents endowed a scholarship in her memory through the FSU Foundation (see Profile Spring ’13).
“When it happened with Alejandro, we … reached out to his family and told them, ‘We just had this happen a year ago with another student,” Yost-Rushton said. “Would you be interested in doing something like this?’ They got on board, and we all raised money together, family members, alums, friends. Everybody gave what they could.”
Nicholas and Anita Gutierrez, Alejandro’s parents, said their son would have been proud of the scholarship in his memory “… and would have responded with his usual, non-flappable, ‘cool beans,’” they said. “He would also have been equally proud of the love expressed by his brother and sisters, including all of his friends, as they created a number of fundraisers to help get his scholarship moving forward.”
The Gutierrez family created and endowed the Alejandro J. Gutierrez Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship supports theatre majors with financial need who have participated in artistic endeavors above and beyond the basic requirements of their major. Already, Alejandro’s award has helped three students afford their education.
“We are so happy to have created something positive from Alejandro’s passing and are very grateful for the opportunity to help other Frostburg thespians fulfill their own dreams,” said Alejandro’s parents, brother Alberto Gutierrez ’03 and sisters Andrea and Alyssa Gutierrez.
“I try to meet with the [recipients] and tell them, particularly for Jennifer Johnson and Alejandro, who they were and let them know how important they were,” Mattis said. “Students are so grateful to get scholarships that they want to live up to the honor of that person. They’ve been very, very receptive.”
Living up to Alejandro’s memory can be no small task. Mattis remembered driving Alejandro to rehearsals for a production of The Diary of Ann Frank at the Cumberland Theatre and the simple conversations they had in the car about everything other than the play or FSU.
Mattis described the warm, open, easy-going actor as “a person who walked without borders” who could not be rattled. “Day-to-day stuff that might drive some of us crazy, he just kind of went right over it.”
“’Alé spent most of his life growing up and living overseas in places such as Hermosillo and Merida, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Caracas, Venezuela; and Brussels, Belgium, so his classmates and friends were mainly from other countries,” said Alejandro’s family. “Many of his teachers were not American, so he was exposed to many cultures, food, languages and points of view. He learned to be very tolerant and accepting of other people.”
Theatre graduate Gina Powell ’04 was one of Alejandro’s close friends. She had first met his brother Alberto at FSU, but quickly bonded with Alejandro in classes and working alongside him in plays.
“Alejandro had a lot of little quirks. Like whenever he was excited about something, he would say ‘high five!’ But he wouldn’t actually give you a high five,” Powell said. “He and I and a couple of other friends, we used to write little plays together and put them on for our friends. … He was quiet in a lot of ways, and reserved, but around his friends he was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”
Yost-Rushton saw him only a month or so before he died when he came to Frostburg to visit friends. She remembered sitting on her front porch with her husband, waiting for his arrival.
“The skies had broken open and here comes Alejandro from the corner of my lane, and we’re watching him and he’s strolling like the sun is shining,” Yost-Rushton said. “That’s the kind of person he was. … He was just enjoying the rain, and he just strolled up soaking wet and we sat on my porch and watched the thunder and lightning and chewed the fat. … I think of him every time it rains.”
“We probably should have guessed that he would be headed toward a career in the theater when, as a fourth grader, he created an entire puppet show that had the entire school audience consisting of parents, teachers and fellow students completely enthralled and laughing hysterically,” Alejandro’s parents said. “Alejandro tended to be shy for a while, but by engaging in theater as an adolescent, it helped him gain much confidence.”