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@School: Evanna Chinnery

Jan. 11, 2009 — Evanna Chinnery, 17, can barely contain her excitement: Along with two other Gifft Hill School students — Malik Stevens and Jessica Samuel, she is off to Washington, D.C., to witness the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama as part of the Presidential Classroom Program.
"I'm overwhelmingly happy," she says.
But first she has to finish her application to Boston's Berklee College of Music. It's due Jan. 15, the day before the three leave for Washington. If she gets accepted, it will be another stop on the way to her dream.
"I want to be a professional singer," she says.
She first got interested in music when she was 5. She was at the laundromat with her mother, Evelyn Romulus, when she saw a music video on TV.
"It was like techno," Chinnery says, laughing as she recalls the now-dated music.
She decided then that music was in her future, an interest that grew when her father, Ivan Chinnery, took her to sing when she was about 6 at a friend's recording studio in Coral Bay.
"We were the backup singers," she says.
Chinnery continued singing along with the radio until she had a chance to sing publicly two years ago at the Methodist Church's harvest service. She impressed quite a few people with her stunning voice, and soon doors began to open.
When she was just 15 she sang with St. John musician Steve Simon's band, Jazz Islanders, at the Beach Bar.
"She sang 'Summertime,' and the audience went nuts," Simon says. "They were so moved by her style and soul. You could hear a pin drop on the beach."
Chinnery has a genuine natural talent, and when she takes to the stage something magical happens," Simon says.
"She's got the 'It' factor," he says. "There's a fabulous future for her."
With help and encouragement from Simon, Chinnery headed off to Berklee's summer program. With 900 students, the program attracts the most talented teens from around the world.
And the St. John School of the Arts came calling with a full scholarship for singing, choir and piano classes. She's now focusing on voice.
She was responsible for bringing together a cadre of Gifft Hill School students to form the St. John Youth Committee. The group focuses on bringing attention to the often deplorable conditions St. John youths face.
"This is our home and we need to take care of it," she says.
Chinnery has a full schedule, but she still has time to paint — she likes acrylics on canvas — and enjoy her family. Her sister Ivanna, 15, is at home, but Shema, 28, lives on the mainland. She also has two step-siblings: Ivan Jr., 21, is on St. John, while Kishma, 27, lives on St. Thomas. And in case you were wondering, her grandfather is the Ivan Chinnery of Ivan's campground fame on Jost Van Dyke.
Her family is very proud of Chinnery's accomplishments.
"Evanna believes in her God," Romulus says. "She has a deep communication with him and he always comes through for her."
She's also focused on her studies.
"Physics is hard," she says, laughing as she adds that she just needs to "pull her socks up" to get better grades.
Chinnery, who started her educational career at Guy Benjamin School before transferring in grade six to Gifft Hill School's predecessor, Pine Peace School, likes the school's small community.
"If I need help with anything, a teacher can help you,"
She's ready for the next chapter in her life and is looking forward to heading off to college next year. But she had advice for those behind her.
"The older folks on the island are bursting with wisdom," she says. "Just listen, pay attention and apply it to life."
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