Thursday, April 24, 2014

Before I graduate … : Art project sees Aggies’ dream in chalk

Nate Hernandez, a fourth-year international relations and German major at UC Davis, writes "I want to record my own music" on Henry Lam's art project — a giant chalkboard at the Memorial Union — asking students to complete this sentence: "Before I graduate, I want to ..." Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

From page A1 | April 04, 2013 | Leave Comment

I want to get into a good med/dent. school.

To become a Renaissance woman

Rule the world.

On the patio of the Memorial Union on Wednesday, UC Davis students used chalk to scrawl their goals and some silliness onto six pieces of plywood that Henry Lam painted like one big blackboard.

At the top, Henry, a junior managerial economics major from Union City, stenciled this in big white letters:

“Before I graduate …”

Then, he let his fellow students do the rest.

Some had noble aspirations: I want to volunteer at an elementary school! or I want to save a life.

Others took a serious tack:

Find a job, one wrote.

Have a baby, wrote another.

I want to have my family visit Davis (I’m an international student).

Henry watched as people wrote in smaller and smaller letters, fitting their own dreams onto the crowded board.

“I overheard some people talking. They would see the sign — ‘Before I graduate …’ — and say to their friends, ‘Oh, I actually don’t know.’ They have to think about it. That’s what I want them to do.

“There are a lot of times where people plan what they want to do after they graduate — internship, find a job, all those things — but I want them to have the best college experience (they can). This is a question that can make them rethink, ‘Oh I’m going to find a job after I graduate, but right now I want to study abroad’ — something they really want to do in college.”

Some were serious: Get on dean’s list, they wrote, or I want to publish a research paper.

Others, less so:  I want to steal this chalk.

Some were adventurous: Backpack the Grand Canyon, one wrote. Go skydiving, wrote another.

Others, just hungry: I want to go to The Hot Dogger.

Henry said he was inspired to build his board by the artist Candy Chang, who put up a similar board — “Before I die, I want to …” — as a way to bring her New Orleans neighborhood together.

He wrote a paper about Chang’s chalkboard in a landscape architecture class he took during the fall quarter. He spent the winter planning and getting approval for his own project, with the help of the Campus Rotaract Club and Vietnamese Student Association.

Henry and housemate Moon Han stayed up until 2 a.m. Wednesday finishing the board, then they were back up three hours later to move it outside the union.

Some students wrote things that were distinctly Davis. Two wanted to ride cows, two others wanted to tip them and one hoped to snag a much-coveted ticket to the Chemistry Magic Show on Picnic Day.

Pet a squirrel, wrote another.

Some wrote things the university would happily put in a brochure: Leave a legacy @ UC Davis or Perform a solo @ Mondavi. Others, just the opposite: Climb the water tower.

One male student paused to write, “Not cheat in class.” Said Henry, “He wrote it and he just left pretty quick.”

Kenneth Leung, a freshman exercise biology major from Cupertino, took a piece of chalk and spelled out, “I want to drive a tractor.”

There’s a class, he said, where you get to do that.

“It’s just a unique class that only Davis would have. Something unique, something kind of fun, something different.”

Christina Trang Hong, a sophomore animal science major from San Jose, wrote “UCD vet med,” to which she hopes to be accepted on her way to specializing in caring for laboratory animals. It’s not a new goal for her. Already, she’s landed an internship on campus caring for rodent colonies.

Some aimed to be artists:

I want to show everyone how I dance.

Sing in front of a crowd.

Build a guitar.

Others, activists:

Save the Domes.

I want to democratize the regents.

Stick it to the man!

Kenneth said he appreciated Henry’s chalkboard.

“Everyone gets to leave their mark.”

College being college, the board saw its share of homages to fraternities, sci fi TV shows, parties and sex:

Start an orgy on the Quad, wrote one student.

Undie run! wrote another.

Then there were the grade-point averages. Some took aim at a 4.0 or a 3.5.

“I just wrote ‘to get a 3.2’ (grade-point average). I’m a 2.99,” said Alex Poon, a third-year economics and international relations major from Fremont.

“I got a 3.2 last quarter, so it went up .04, but it didn’t break a 3.0, which pissed me off. If I would have gotten a third of a letter grade better, I would have gotten a 3.0, finally. Freshman mistakes are pulling me down.”

Some aspired to enlightenment:

I want to maintain true happiness.

Learn to meditate.

Others, the impossible:

I want to fly.

I want to steal the Declaration of Independence.

I will ride a velociraptor.

Said Henry, “I like the interactions. Like someone wrote, ‘I want to party on the fifth floor of the MU’ and then someone wrote, ‘What’s up there?’ (And) there’s, Before I graduate, I want to … ‘write on a giant “before I graduate” wall. And someone else put, ‘Congratulations! You did it!’ That’s exactly what I hoped for — interaction.

“That, and the way people will say, ‘Oh, look at this one!’ — because I know people just walk by the patio all the time, and they don’t really talk to each other.”

Some students took a moment to reflect on themselves:

Be more exciting.

I wanna lose 10 lbs.

Be (smiley face) w/ who I am!

More than a few had others on their minds, though:

Make my parents and family hella proud of me.

I want to get noticed by her.

Henry was the first to write on the board, just to get the ball rolling. Soon, another person took up a piece of chalk, then another.

“I wrote, ‘I want to travel the world!’ because I studied in China, and I want to do that again,” Henry said. “And ‘I want to fall in love.’ 

He planned to photograph the board and post the pictures on Facebook, wash it off and bring it back out today. After that, he’ll saw the board up into 30 or 40 pieces.

On Friday, Henry will hand out dreams to anyone who wants one.

— Reach Cory Golden at or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter.

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