Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Before I Die

Lexington, Virginia 24450
News Office: 540-458-8460

Feb. 12, 2015

What is the Goal of the Before I Die Wall?

Have you seen it—The Before I Die Wall? A public art project currently sitting on the east side of the Elrod Commons at Washington and Lee University, the wall was planned, built, painted, stenciled and installed by students and staff. During the rest of the school year, it will move to different locations on campus.

Members of the W&L community are invited to write a message about what they hope to achieve in life.

Amelia Murcott ’16, the student behind the concept, first began thinking about the project when she saw photos on the Internet of the movement around the world. “All of the walls look essentially the same,” she said, “despite some being in different languages, in different communities and made with different materials.”

Her main goal with the project is to unite the campus community around a different kind of conversation. “Our University has long been characterized by the academic and professional success of its students, and while we take rightful pride in these accomplishments, there are times I have felt that a broader perspective of life is lost,” she explained. “I feel that the wall will serve as an opportunity for the community to regain a bit of perspective that can be lost in the daily stress that comes with various academic, athletic and social responsibilities. As we continue to devote ourselves to academic excellence, it is important to remember that there are things to work toward after we pass our finals or complete our summer internship. My hope is for the wall to achieve just that.”

After researching ways that other communities had installed the wall and logistical details, such as size, location, timeframe, etc., Murcott sent proposals about the wall to President Ken Ruscio, Dean Sydney Evans and other members of administration who were receptive of the idea.

James Dick, director of Student Activities and Outdoor Education, offered his help in facilitating the construction and installation of the wall, and Murcott worked with Jeff Wines, facilities management carpentry supervisor, to determine the project’s dimensions and structure. Kathleen Olson, professor of art, directed Murcott to senior Eileen Small who made the stencils for the wall. Sophomores Camille LeJeune and Alice Cannon oversaw the wall’s installation, with the help of Lucy Raney, campus utility supervisor.

“I am not an art student, so this collaboration of various students and members of the W&L administration was invaluable,” said Murcott.” I have been incredibly interested in art since my first exposure to art history in my sophomore year, and as I began to pursue a minor in the subject, I noticed that there was a lack of exposure to art on The Hill, and that students of other majors, who rarely have cause to visit Wilson, do not encounter art on a daily basis. Given this, I hope for the wall to act as an interactive, public art piece. Students and faculty from all departments will have access to the wall, and complete freedom to manipulate the piece the way they see fit.”

Feedback has already begun. “Although I like the intent of the wall, I believe it is ineptly named,” said Ulemj Enkhbold ’17. “I feel like the goal should be not to mark death as the endpoint of life, but rather to celebrate life. Therefore, I would have liked to see the name of the campaign be ‘While I’m alive,’ or ‘While I live.’ “
“I think that the wall is a really great way to learn about the true passions of W&L students,” said Bishop Snedden ’18. “You may know someone on an academic or social level, but I feel like the Before I Die Wall allows students to share a random aspiration that is part of their deeper self. This board is a good step towards getting students to think about things they would like to achieve in their lifetime. Write it on the board, and it may happen!”
“I saw a lady on a walk with her dog stopped in front of the Before I Die Wall, so I stopped and asked her what she thought of it,” said McKenna Quatro ’18. “She said it was really great to be reminded how deeply some college kids think about life.”

“I feel that the installation of the Before I Die Wall on campus will serve as a way for students and faculty to consider what is truly important to them,” said Murcott. “My hope is that the wall will serve as an opportunity to preserve the ideals of trust, respect and community at Washington and Lee, and that it will encourage our community to embrace what makes us unique—our hopes and dreams—rather than what makes us different—our skin color, our hometown, our Greek affiliation. As we anonymously share our goals, we will begin to remember what makes us whole, what makes us united, what makes us Generals.”