By Dakota Vaughn, Student Director

The scene opens on a group of girls gathered in a cozy apartment living room. It’s a school night at Messiah. They should be studying, but that’s the farthest thing from their minds. Instead, they are watching Project Runway, making DIY Harry Potter wands, and laughing riotously. At the center of the scene is Emily Ransil, serenading the group with a song from her favorite musical Rent. 

Nearly a year after being diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma, Ransil passed away on Sept. 3, 2019. Her prognosis came the previous September when an MRI revealed a walnut-sized tumor in her brain, and a biopsy confirmed that she was positive for melanoma. For most college students, a cancer prognosis would be hard to comprehend, but Ransil was a nursing major, and had the unique ability to understand what was happening inside her body. 

“She knew everything that they were talking about. She understood it at the medical level. It helped her cope…because she could make it less personal,” said Professor Kristen Slabaugh, Ransil’s advisor. 


“It was a regular occurrence to find Ransil singing show tunes while studying for her nursing classes.”

Nursing was one of Ransil’s passions, followed closely by a deep love for musical theater. The medical field and the theatrical stage may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, but Ransil found a way to weave together her love for both. It was a regular occurrence to find Ransil singing show tunes while studying for her nursing classes. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that she will be remembered for her love of both,” said Rachel Sulonen Lowrie, one of Ransil’s closest friends. “I have memories of her singing and cooking on any Tuesday night.” Sulonen Lowrie described karaoke sessions led by Ransil in which each friend would pick a different part of a Hamilton song and sing simultaneously.

Ransil was a frequent attendee of Messiah College theater productions. Though not on stage herself, Ransil was a deeply involved audience member and fan. Before falling ill, Ransil was set to be on the Season Selection Advisory Board to help decide what productions the theater department should put on. This year’s fall production of Wit was dedicated to Ransil by director Ed Cohn. The play follows the story of a professor battling stage four cancer. 


“She always gave before she asked for help.”

When not belting out musical numbers, Ransil was also known for the advice and encouragement she gave, and the deep conversations she often had with friends. 

“There were many times that Emily and I would talk for hours about life and how things were going,” recalled Adelaide Mikec. Other friends like Sulonen Lowrie, Kathryn Trice, and Abigail Schmalz recollected similar heart-to-hearts with Ransil. “Probably my favorite memories are talking late into the night about school, faith, guys, and life. She would settle into these late night conversations and make everyone tea and popcorn,” said Trice. 

“She always gave before she asked for help,” said Schmalz, who connected with Ransil because both women have parents who are Messiah professors. “We have lots of shallow friends, but she was a really good friend to everyone.” 

Everyone that spoke of Ransil agreed that her driving force was her love for others. Her friends, family, and Messiah community were precious to her, especially towards the end of her life. “She was afraid of losing her community here. She was really connected with everybody. That was what she most feared losing,” said Slabaugh. 

Ransil’s peers were just one of the groups she was strongly connected to. Another group that was close to Ransil’s heart were human trafficking victims. 90% of victims of human trafficking come into contact with a healthcare provider; Ransil planned to become one of those providers, specifically a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. 

“It takes a really special person to do that,” Slabaugh said. “She…was hoping to work in the ER so that she would have the opportunity to intersect with those patients”. 

In speaking with Ransil’s friends and professors, there’s a sense that she was larger than life. She was described by some as the maternal figure of any friend group, by others as the person in the room who “made everyone feel comfy”, and by others still as “brilliant and driven, always looking for ways to learn and grow.” 

To borrow a question from Rent, “How do you measure the life of a woman?” For Ransil, her life is measured by her love: The things she loved to learn about, the people she loved to encourage and support, the causes she loved to fight for, and the songs she loved to sing at the top of her lungs. 

If you are struggling with grief or loss of a loved one, you are not alone. Messiah College offers a weekly Grief and Loss group on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Engle Center. The group will run from October 2 to November 6 and is open to anyone who has experienced a loss. For more information, contact Emily Layman at

This article can be found in the October issue of the Swinging Bridge Magazine.