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Tigard teen Mallory Matheson asks 'Before I die I want to ...

Matheson's senior National Honor Society project asks locals a big question

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Mallory Matheson of Tigard checks one of the large stencils on the mural shes completing for her National Honor Society project.It's not every day that a teenager asks you to consider your mortality.

Indeed, it's not every teenager who even knows what's meant by “mortality.”

Tigard's Mallory Matheson, however, is not just any teen.

Matheson, 17 and an incoming senior at Tigard High School, is doing just that these days, asking herself and others to consider the following: “Before I die, I want to …”

It's not that Matheson is preoccupied with death — she's certainly no Goth — instead, she has posed this question in a public fashion as part of her senior project for the National Honor Society.

“It’s a global art project and I was searching for ideas that would be usable online and this popped up,” Matheson said, “and so I was like 'Yeah. I'll try that.'”

Senior project

Her project is this: She has painted what will turn out to be a great black chalkboard on the side of the building owned by A Light Up Company at 11225 S.W. Greenburg Road. That chalkboard — which measures some 50 feet wide and four feet tall — appears on the east wall of the company's building, just south of the intersection with Tiedeman Avenue.

At the top left corner of the chalkboard — she and friend Kasey Yoke used about two gallons of black chalkboard paint to create the base for Matheson's project — are the large words “Before I die …”

Beneath that, and extending down the rest of the display — Matheson describes it as a mural — is a repeated series of smaller stenciled displays, each reading “Before I die I want to ____________”TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Mallory Matheson of Tigard spray paints on one of the smaller stencils on the mural shes completing for her National Honor Society project.

A very personal question

The answer to that question, of course, is a very personal one for each person who endeavors to answer it.

For Matheson, on the verge of her senior year and looking ahead to the start of her adult life, the answer is one filled with the possibility of adventure and the promise of the future.

“My first one would be to travel the world,” Matheson said, mentioning her desire to see Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. “And I haven't really thought about the rest (but) I have a whole list somewhere at home.”

For Susan Zwingli, co-owner of A Light Up Company with her husband Scott, the answer — likewise — involves traveling.

“Ireland. Yeah, one of the things I want to do before I die is to go to Ireland,” Susan Zwingli said. “That's just kind of something I want to do for myself, but I'm also thinking about something I could do for the community in a larger sense.”

A shared sense of community

Indeed, it's the Zwinglis' sense of community and commitment to Tigard that made them open to Matheson when she first approached them with the idea a couple months back.

“What's really funny about this is we had a winter carnival here two years ago, just for the neighborhood. After that, we were really brainstorming, thinking about how can we have more partnerships with the community and neighborhood, kids in the neighborhood. And then we got really busy and it sort of went by the wayside,” Susan Zwingli said. “So then when she appeared about two months ago and pitched this idea, what I said was, basically, 'Where have you been? This is perfect.'”

That conversation came to fruition last week, with Matheson and Yoke applying the chalkboard paint to the wall on Aug. 26, and Matheson — with splotches of black paint still stuck to her legs and hands the next day — using stencils to add the lettering on Aug. 27.

Matheson explained that National Honor Society students are required to put in a minimum of 120 service hours in their junior and senior years, and that their senior projects are supposed to take a minimum of 10-15 hours.

“I've wanted to do this mural for a while,” she said. “I just love how the whole purpose of the wall is to get people to drop out of their day-to-day routines and invite them to just reflect on their lives and their true aspirations.

“And just the title itself reminds us that we have a finite amount of time to live so we need to actively start moving toward our goals and accomplishing them.”

For her part, Zwingli sees the project as a coming together of sorts, where she and her husband's desires to connect more with their community are satisfied, while at the same time, Matheson's similar needs are also filled.

“I don't think she expected to have such an enthusiastic response,” Susan Zwingli said. “I have really been dreaming of this sort of possibility, but didn't really know what it would look like, and in she walked. For me, it was an immediate 'Yes.'”

"I have a lot I want to do in my life"

The mural, after needing a handful of days to dry completely, officially opened to the community on Sunday when Matheson added chalk holders and now has room for 70 different answers. And if Matheson gets the kind of response she wants, when it's filled up, she'll take a photo of the wall, then wash it clean and allow people to add to it again.

She plans to save the responses she gets and share some of them on her Facebook page.

Matheson said she doesn't yet know where she'll go to college next year, but hopes to study English, anthropology or music therapy. Until then, however, she plans to use her final year of high shool to its fullest extent — perhaps no surprise given her uniquely developed sense of perspective.

“I just feel like I have a lot I want to do in my life,” she said. “I'm trying to figure that out now and I'm trying to take those steps and get going.”TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Mallory Matheson of Tigard begins painting on one of the smaller stencils on the mural shes completing for her National Honor Society project.

Editor's note: You can see some of the early responses here on The Times' Facebook page.

By Miles Vance
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