New Student Orientation asks the big questions

What do you want to do before you die?

It's a profound question to grapple with at any time, and first year students tackled the question during Mount Royal University's New Student Orientation week. It was put to them by two young men barely out of university themselves, who have made a fliving out of turning the dreams on their bucket list into reality.

Jonnie Penn and Dave Lingwood, two of the four Canadian stars of the MTV reality TV show The Buried Life, were the key note speakers during orientation week.

At times funny, at times poignant, the duo shared the universal lessons they have learned since starting what was a documentary project in 2006 and has become a television series and a best-selling book. In that time, they and their partners, Duncan Penn (Jonnie's brother) and Ben Nemtin, have asked thousands of strangers the question: What do you want to do before you die?

Helping others realize their dreams

They have travelled the globe completing their own list, which includes: Open the Six O'Clock News (they wouldn't leave the Victoria television station until the producers said Yes); Ride a bull; Get a college degree; Be a knight for a day; Kiss the Stanley Cup; Get married in Vegas (and later annulled.)

The list goes on.

Jonnie Penn and Dave Lingwood, two of the four Canadian stars of the MTV reality TV show The Buried Life, were the key note speakers during New Student Orientation.

For every item they cross off their bucket list, they help a stranger realize their own dream. Like the man they helped find and reunite with the son he abandoned 17 years earlier because of addiction. The two became friends, and eventually returned to father and son, "which is what they very much are today," said Penn.

Making the impossible possible

Still, some of the items on the list are at best, over-the-top or worst, impossible to achieve: Solve a crime, Capture a fugitive, Go to space, and Fall in love. It doesn't stop them from trying. Item No. 95 is: Play basketball with the President of the United States.

So the boys wrote and phoned every congressman, asking for help. One or two responded back. Eventually they were referred to a key advisor named Reggie Love, who eventually returned their call. "He basically told us to forget it, it was never going to happen," said Penn.

Sometimes though, even the impossible is possible. Like the time two of them managed to hide inside a giant cake and sneak into the Playboy Mansion. Dressed like clowns, once they got the Trojan cake through security, they had a free pass to the party because everyone thought they were hired entertainers. Inevitably the lawyers caught up with them and threatened to sue them and MTV if the secretly taped footage ever went to air.

Did they give up? No. They did what anyone would do in that situation; they sent a copy of the tape, along with a handwritten appeal, to the Playboy boss himself, Hugh Hefner. He wrote back and said: "You can air the episode. Just know I am not happy with you boys."

The lesson? "I don't know what was better, crashing the Playboy mansion or getting scolded by Hugh Hefner," said Penn.

Or sometimes "No" just means "Not now."

Universal truths

Other universal truths discovered in the quest to answer: What do you want to do before you die?

  • Anyone can do anything.
  • Write it down; it makes it tangible. There's a difference between a dream and a project. A project needs a plan.
  • Be audacious - it's statistically easier to go after impossible things than possible things because there is less competition.
  • Stay united. "What you guys are about to begin at school is you are meeting people that you are going to know for the rest of your life," said Lingwood. "Stay close to people who challenge you and make you think about things you've never thought about before, and see if you can do the same for them."
  • Help others. Happiness is only real when it's shared.

As for playing ball with the President, the boys got pretty close. A few months ago they got a call out of the blue from Reggie Love, asking if they could come to Washington that weekend. He told them the President wasn't there, but he would give them a tour of the White House.

The Mount Royal students were then treated to a rare glimpse of unedited footage that won't air until next season. The boys rushed to Washington and got to play basketball in the White House.

The footage opens with them on the official White House court, shooting hoops with basketballs that carry the presidential seal. They couldn't look more excited.

The tape continues rolling, and sure enough President Barack Obama walks in and greets them, shakes their hand, and the clip ends.

Paula Arab - Sept. 12, 2013