What do you want to do before you die? This is the question that students in Kirby Veevers’ Aging & Long-Term Care and Palliative Care classes set out to explore this semester.
In March, the students set up a huge blackboard in the Hofstra Dome that prompts passersby to stop and think about their life’s goals. The responses are often touching; some are surprising and funny: “Change someone’s life.” “Make my mother proud.” “Visit all 50 states with a best friend.” “Have Ryan Gosling’s baby.”
“We know a big problem in society today is that no one wants to talk about death,” said Jasmina Ehab ‘15, a health science major who helps oversee the project. “But this project has been fascinating. It got us to talk about death in a positive and creative way. Just seeing what everyone else wrote about got me to expand my horizons about what I wanted to do before I die.”
The wall has been hugely popular, filling up every week before it is photographed and erased for the next week. It will remain in the Dome through the summer and fall.
Veevers, an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Professions and a 2008 Master of Health Administration alumna, brought the idea to Hofstra after seeing a similar wall in a restaurant in Woodstock, NY, two years ago. “I was so excited to see that because it showed that our culture is changing,” she says. “We are starting to take away the painful taboos associated with end of life.”
The “Before I Die” project originated with artist Candy Chang, who turned an abandoned house in New Orleans into a giant chalkboard and revived a neglected community. “Life is brief and tender…preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do,” she said in a 2012 TED Talk. “With more ways to share our hopes, fears and stories, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us lead better lives.”
Photos of Hofstra’s wall will be submitted to Chang’s “Before I Die” website, which features images from some of the 475 walls which have been erected in 65 countries and 30 languages.
Photos and additional reporting by Tyler Sakry ’16.