A group of La Cañada High School students had wanted to bring a version of the art project, "Before I Die I Want to _____'' to the high school even before their classmate jumped to his death on campus last week.
Now, sadly, it's even more relevant, said LCHS graduate Kevork Kurdoghlian.
The former editor of the school's newspaper, the La Cañada Spartan, addressed a weary-faced school board Tuesday, as the community continued to recover from the death of 17-year-old Campbell Taylor. The senior took his own life last Friday by jumping from a third-story open walkway in the middle school building. Kurdoghlian spoke on behalf of Spartan staff members and ASB representatives who attended the school board meeting.
He suggested that the students need to create a physical space where they can "share their stories, their hopes and their dreams.'' A space that echoes the New Orleans project, "Before I Die I Want to ______'' . The large-scale art installation is the work of Candy Chang, who painted a chalkboard alongside an abandoned house and, in doing so, brought the community together by allowing people to finish the sentence with things they hope to accomplish in life.
In her piece about the art project, posted on the Spartan website last Friday, prior to her classmate's death, student Christine Lee wrote: "Just an idea: it would definitely be nice to turn one bland wall at our school into a wall full of the dreams of our peers.'' You may read her full article here.
Kurdoghlian told board members this type of project is a way to mourn and cope as a community.
"The death of our friend is a reminder that we need to be taking a more holistic approach in addressing the educational, social and emotional needs of our students,'' he said.
A Way to Relieve Stress
While the space would be a place for students to try to unburden themselves from academic and social stresses, Kurdoghlian underscored that in no way would such a project be a way to romanticize Taylor's death -- a grave fear of administrators when a student commits suicide is that others could follow. Superintendent Wendy Sinnette reiterated several times during the meeting that "suicide is never the answer.'' Some 200 students have seen grief counselors since the March 1 tragedy, she said.
Gripping the podium tighter, Kurdoghlian lowered his head and, perhaps even surprised himself with what he said next.
"I'm going off script here...One of the last text messages I received from [Taylor] was about stresses that he was experiencing with AP exams and theater and all the other...responsibilities he took on. We can't be expected to just go home and deal with it or speak to a counselor. We need each other.''
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