‘Before I Die, I Want To …’ – Fredericksburg student’s project catches community’s attention
Before I die, I want to fall in love, witness a miracle, make a movie, make a difference, go backpacking around the world, tour Snell.
Max Glover, a sophomore at James Monroe High School, initiated the Fredericksburg project after watching a video in which the New Orleans woman who birthed the idea describes it.
Candy Chang, an artist who likes to use public spaces to engage ideas, came up with the idea four years ago after the sudden death of a woman she thought of as a mother.
The loss prompted her to reflect on life and death and clarified what mattered most to her, she said in a speech last year.
With the help of friends, she painted the side of an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood using chalkboard paint. They left chalk behind for people to complete the sentence: Before I die, I want to
“It’s about knowing you’re not alone. It’s about understanding our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It’s about making space for reflection and contemplation and remembering what really matters to us as we grow and change,” she said last year at a meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, that’s posted on YouTube.
The idea was so popular that Chang created a “toolkit” for others to create their own public-dialogue space, and the idea went worldwide.
Before I Die signs sprang up in places such as Kazakhstan, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and now in Fredericksburg.
University of Mary Washington graduate student Brianna Chaudhry was showing the city to an uncle from Washington state this week when the sign on Amelia Street near Princess Anne grabbed her attention.
“This is really cool. I love it,” she said. “I think any public personal expression is really interesting.”
Max Glover said he was inspired to start the project after hearing Chang on a video during one of his weekly Youth In Philanthropy meetings.
YIP is part of The Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region. It’s made up of 40 teens from high schools across Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George counties and the city of Fredericksburg.
Throughout the year, they engage in activities that teach them the value of community outreach.
Max got permission from city officials and property owners to post the signs.
One was installed in front of the Wack General Contractor building at 400 Charles Street. The other is on Amelia Street, attached to the retaining wall of the Glover and Dahnk law firm.
The negotiations with the law firm went pretty well since Bill Glover and Jeannie Dahnk are his parents.
Dahnk said she initially had reservations about the idea, fearing what would be written on the boards.
“I thought it was going to be a train wreck,” she admitted.
But she’s been pleasantly surprised by the maturity of the messages and the “community editing” that has taken place.
She and Max were both touched by one example where someone ended the “Before I die, I want to ” sentence with: “I want to be skinny.”
Someone came along afterward and wrote: “You’re beautiful just the way you are.”
The signs will remain up until mid-August, and Max will be checking on them daily.
He’s documenting what is written and will be analyzing the comments to create a report for an independent study he’s doing this summer for his school’s English department.
Already, the public’s willingness to share their thoughts has exceeded his expectations.
“I thought there would be some nervousness around it but people went straight for it,” he said.
“It’s been amazing. I hope people keep doing it.”
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972