Death On Campus

IMG_9531Here at Kenyon College, there’s a graveyard on campus. I’m here this week for a writing workshop and I stumbled across it on a walk. I found gravestones from the 1830s and the 1990s, including those of professors and alums.

I’d never seen a college graveyard before. It must be a great source for campus jokes.

But what would it be like to have the dead as campus neighbors when you’re 18-22 years old? To have dead alumni as part of your learning community? Would it make death more familiar, somehow? Would you think more about your life, and what it means, if you passed a graveyard on your way to class every day?


Maybe not, but it got me thinking.

Headstones meant to hold onto a memory of someone who’s died. But sadly, as I walked by all these names and stones there was no way I could really know anything about the people beneath them. Sadly, they were as good as forgotten in my case, and for most anyone else who would walk by. But they do remind me that people die, and that one day, I will die, too, and almost certainly also be unknown, as they are unknown to me.

You might know this old saying, carved on many old tombstones:

Remember, Friend, as you go by: As you are now so once was I; as I am now so shall you be. Prepare yourself to follow me. 


So, if we’re not all going to be famous, how do we learn to live a life worth living? You probably had an education that helped you understand how the world around us works through the lens of politics, science, literature, or some other field. I did. But I’m not sure I can say that my education taught me how to understand or reflect on the meaning of life and death. Or to answer the question: “Why am I here? What is life for? What is a good life?

A graveyard on campus won’t teach anybody this stuff by itself. But walking into one today reminded me that I’m going to die one day, and I think that’s an important part of a life’s education.


  1. I noticed this cemetery too yesterday, and I love the question of how college life might be shaped by living alongside it.

  2. Heidi! Another great post. I’m going to look for this cemetery. Every Ash Wednesday my college students turn out in droves for a worship service that includes me preaching about death. I think it resonates with them because it makes them consider their lives, the fragility of their lives, and how they are going to live. I might use your post and this cemetery as a metaphor next Ash Wednesday. Thank you!