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Before I Die UCI: A (Giant) Recap

Hey UCI! It has been a little over a week since the Before I Die wall at UCI was taken down and I’d say it’s about time for a (long) recap.  You’ve been warned.

A great deal has happened to the team since the “Before I Die” wall happened. We’ve been offered to work with the TEDxUCI team, made into a documentary, interviewed by the New University and Her Campus, mentioned on numerous UCI Facebook pages, and featured in the OC Register newspaper and website. What I personally enjoyed the most was hearing personal stories about how the wall has encouraged and inspired to follow their passions, to help others, and to do something meaningful.

If you don’t know, the team that created the wall at UCI consisted of Justin Ho, Kendrick Wang, Jesse Oduro, Timothy Casasola, Francis Cailles, and me, David Ly Khim.

We jumped into his project not knowing what to expect. Honestly, we were scared. “What if someone writes something offensive?” We expected some sort of attention because, well, there’s no way anyone can ignore a huge black wall with “Before I Die” stenciled in large, bold, white letters. We were just some students with a strong desire to inspire others to grow, to do what they love, and to believe in themselves–that’s really it. The amount of attention the wall received on day one was mind-blowing. It was ridiculous.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram blew up almost instantaneously with photos of the wall and our hashtag #beforeidieuci. Enough that the UCI Storify page featured the wall. We overheard people talking about the wall all over campus and we even saw people in class looking at pictures of the wall via Facebook. The hype was alive.

However, let’s take a few steps back to the beginning.

Here is a documentary of the project made by Laura Peveri.

Conception of the Idea

It was finals week of fall quarter. I was sick of studying so I did what I usually do to give myself a refresher–I went to the TED website and browsed through the talks. My eyes fell upon a video titled, “Candy Chang: Before I die I want to…” Interesting. What do I want to do before I die? I watched the video.

I was astonished. Astonished by how Candy Chang found a silver lining in her situation and how selflessly she acted to overcome her own depression. Astonished by the responses of the community. Astonished by the realization that the people around me have their own amazing aspirations and deep desires to achieve them. Wow.


“I have to bring one of these walls to Irvine,” was my initial thought. I have to see what students want to achieve. More importantly, I believed that, in order to inspire others, students must share their aspirations with others.

I shared the video to some friends and pitched the idea of building a wall for UCI. It was met with strong encouragement and support. Although, I still had to study for my finals, I was refreshed. I organized all the details during my study breaks. I made a list of things to buy, people to contact, permits required, and recruited people to help.

The Planning

The wheels were in motion. A group of us, whose names were previously mentioned, met at the Peet’s Coffee & Tea near campus. The discussion was rampant with ideas and possibilities. By the end of the discussion, Jesse suggested we get funded by the Student Center and Event Services. A proposal was drafted, tailored, and, after 2 weeks, it was finally ready for submission. The Student Center Board would not meet until school was back in session. The wheels stopped. We had to wait.

The Preparation

Once we received the funding, the wheels were back in motion–and we didn’t stop. The group met again, created a blueprint of the wall (initially a cube, more on that later), reviewed the list of required materials, and we were off to Home Depot. We spent two entire weekends–four 12-15-hour days–building the wall. We met up each weekend and worked, stopping only to eat or if we needed a short break. It is needless to say, but we became exhausted and didn’t spend as much time on our studies as we should have. However, we strongly believed in the wall and what we were trying to do with it. We pushed on, barely keeping up with classes.

Disaster occurred on the Saturday before the public launch of the wall. If you’ve ever watched a cooking competition on TV, there is always a moment when someone messes up, something goes terribly wrong, and everyone becomes even more stressed than before. All is quiet, tension pierces the air, and everyone is just trying to figure out what to do. Well, that’s what happened. One of our panels broke during our pseudo/practice set-up. I suppose it was better to have it break that day rather than on the day of the true set-up. But how were we supposed to make a cube with only 3 panels? How about a triangle? No. We had to come up with another way to set up the panels that would be aesthetically pleasing, welcoming to passersby, and more importantly, self-stable.

After much tension and stress, we figured out the layout. We disassembled everything, glad that the night was almost over. Then another panel broke. Great.

We spent that Saturday night and the entire Sunday reinforcing the three panels. By the end of the weekend, we had finished everything. Confident and proud of our work, it was time for a photo op.

DSC_1257 Ready.

Game Time

The next morning was filled with excitement. We met up at 6:30am and set up the wall. We wrote our aspirations and camped at a table nearby to keep watch as students began arriving to campus. No one paid much attention–they were more focused on how late they were to class. What happened over the next few hours was amazing.

Students gathered in front of the wall. They wrote on it, stared at it, stuck in deep contemplation and confusion at the same time. “Whoa. Why is this wall here? Who did this? Is it ASUCI? Can I write on it? This is amazing. What do I want to do before I die?”

Whoa. Whoa. DSC_6631 A few people participating early on. DSC_6633 Here they come.

We stood around, observing, sometimes writing our own aspirations–no one knew it was us. We were hiding in plain sight. It was exciting. We spoke to a few people, answered some questions, slightly let out the secret that we were the ones responsible.

We uploaded pictures to the official Before I Die, Irvine website as well as the Before I Die UCI Tumblr page,

On that first day, we heard a girl confide in her friend, “Man, this made me re-think my life.” It was then that we knew we succeeded in inspiring the campus.

The wall was up for a week and it was taken down abruptly.

The end of the first day. The end of the first day.

The Story After the “Before I Die” Wall

I mentioned the recognition we obtained earlier in this entry. However, that was never the intent of the project. We simply wanted to inspire people. We wanted to give students a deeper understanding of the people around them, their friends, and of themselves.

The number one question we kept hearing was “Who did this?” We let the secret out to a few people. We did it. No organization did it. David, Kendrick, Justin, Jesse, Tim, and Francis did it. We believe this is why the “Before I Die” wall worked so well. There was no organization tied to it. There was no publicity in it. It was just something a group of students wanted to do for the campus.

We keep hearing “Thank you for making the wall, you’re so inspiring.” That’s where most people get it wrong. We didn’t inspire most you–and neither did the wall. You all inspired each other. The wall was just the media by which you did it and we just happened to provide it.

Now that it’s over, people have been asking what plans we have next for the wall. Will we put it up again? Will we do it next year? How about a permanent wall?

The answer to all those questions is no. No, we won’t be doing it again. The reason why the wall had such a big impact on all of us is because it was random–it wasn’t expected–it hadn’t been done before, and it almost literally hit us all (yes, us too) in the face when it was set up. If the wall were to be put up again, it wouldn’t have the same impact. It wouldn’t strike you with awe or wonder. You’ve seen it already. You’ve been asked the question already. You’ve thought about it, you’ve discussed it, and the idea has been planted in your mind.

We know there are going to be other organizations that will make their own walls. We just hope that these organizations remember the true purpose behind the wall.

DSC_6514 Back at the beginning.

Final Words

Bringing the “Before I Die” wall to UC Irvine is possibly the best thing I have ever done in college. I was given the opportunity to inspire action in others around me, and I took it, and my friends responded–the community responded.

Even though our names won’t be plastered on walls and we won’t be given much recognition for this, we know we’ve made an impact on UCI and we’ve left our mark.

We would like thank everyone for the support and for being so bold to share their extraordinary aspirations with the campus. We are incredibly honored to have been a part of the “Before I Die” movement and to have made a significant impact at UCI.

Although wall is no longer physical, the idea has been planted. We’ve all deeply contemplated our plans for the future and what we want to achieve. We hope that everyone continues to pursue extraordinary aspirations, work toward their goals, and live out their dreams.

Thank you all for inspiring us and more importantly, thank you for inspiring UCI.



If you have any questions as to how you can get involved with the Before I Die movement, check out Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about the project!

Thank you to Kendrick Wang for the photos! For more photos, check out the official  Before I Die, Irvine website as well as the Before I Die UCI Tumblr page.