‘Before I Die Wall’ comes to Saddleback

Introspective global art project inspires students to share their life goals (Holly Broxterman/Lariat)

Saddleback hosted the annual Majors Fair on April 4, with several departments featuring informational booths for their certificate and degree programs. The Gerontology department featured a particularly large four-sided chalkboard display on the quad lawn, known as the “Before I Die Wall.”

The fair happened to coincide with Careers In Aging Week, which falls on the first full week of April, according to the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. As the only booth with an art display larger than the kiosk itself, the additional emphasis for their department cultivated awareness for CIAW as well as the study of aging and growing prominence of quality gerontology care, according to Saddleback gerontology program coordinator and sociology professor Nicole Major.

“In Orange County, one in four people will be age 55 or older by the year 2050,” said Major. “We know that most people are maybe not going into gerontology, but your field or your career will likely touch on older adults, their families and helping with their needs.”

Heather Wieshlow, a student in Major’s Death and Dying class, first suggested the display upon seeing the wall at the The Alley Art Festival in Vista, California. Wieshlow researched the wall’s origins and became inspired by the original artist Candy Chang who created the first wall on an abandoned building following the loss of someone dear to her. People in the neighborhood quickly took chalk to the wall, filling available space with their aspirations and innermost dreams and values, according to the artist.

“It was interesting to see that not only did they come together to write their messages, so they shared something that was important to them in their lives, but they came together as a community,” said Wieshlow. “They also came together in a way that allowed them to talk about death in a different way than our society maybe allows, so this was a trifecta of wonderful things.”

Students walking by could write their own bucket list items of things they hope to accomplish before they die. The variety of life goals ranged anywhere from having three kids to world travel to milking a cow, among dozens of others.

A version of the wall has been seen locally at UCI, Chapman and Dominguez Hills campuses. In total, there have been 4,000 boards in 70 countries as part of the global art project, which seeks to remove the stigma of speaking openly about death while providing a platform for the community to come together.