Ava is here. These three words echo the sentiment of “Project Ava Everywhere,” an event in commemoration of former Stuyvesant student Ava Hecht, who passed away two years ago due to meningitis.
The event took place on Saturday, January 8. Over 400 people signed up to participate in the project on Facebook, and others who keep Ava in their thoughts contributed as well. Hundreds of posters decorated with safety pins and the bold text, “Ava is Here” appeared everywhere, reaching from New York to Hollywood, London, Germany, Brazil, Japan and Israel. The safety pins were meant to commemorate one of the signature items that Ava wore, safety pin earrings.
Elena Hecht (’03), Ava’s sister and the creator of this project, was inspired by the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” directed by famous graffiti artist Banksy. Although Hecht’s project did not involve graffiti, the medium through which information was spread was the same, as the posters were hung on walls and public places in cities. Hecht hoped that the project would make everyone remember the wonderful person that Ava was. “Ava is still with us every day,” Hecht said. “[Ava’s] spirit lives in many ways, and this is a way of proclaiming it to the world.”
Many of those who participated knew Ava personally while others were students in Stuyvesant when Ava’s tragic death was announced. “When Elena told me of this day over Christmas dinner, I was just so excited. This suddenly gave me something specific to do on that day to remember her and honor her, because she is here,” said Ava’s close friend Erica Sands (’09), who put up signs in London and made a YouTube video to document the process. A few of Ava’s other close friends added information about Ava’s life and death onto their posters to make the proclamation that “Ava is Here” more personal and powerful.
The teachers who knew Ava Hecht also put up signs to celebrate her life. German teacher Gabriele Dehn-Knight placed signs that read, “Ava is here” in German all over classroom. “After Ava’s death, I kept looking for her in my class, but she was not physically there,” Dehn-Knight said. ”There was a vacuum of her presence, but I think she was deeply remembered by everyone.”
“We took a picture of us with ‘Ava ist immer noch unter uns’ written on the blackboard, meaning ’Ava is always among us’,” said junior Simon Gurvets, who was in German class with Ava the year she passed away.
Assistant Principal English Eric Grossman taught Ava in his Great Books class. “I was struck by her ability to be both really edgy and totally accepting and warm towards everything,” Grossman said. “She very much had her own style, but she had a talent for never seeming to judge other people because of their styles or tastes or groups of friends or anything like that. She was rare and special for being someone that I have never heard a single negative or unkind comment about.”
Grossman also felt that this project would be important for the school. “Often in schools it’s easy to feel like all that matters is the next test, the next paper, the next weekend or vacation. The idea of keeping connections to other peers, to memories from a while ago alive seems a really helpful and important thing,” Grossman said.
After taking part in Project Ava Everywhere, Elena Hecht has asked the attendees to email images of their signs hanging in specific locations around the country or post them under the Facebook event. Hecht received photographs of posters hanging around the world and is currently uploading them for public browsing on Flickr. She plans to compile the images into a slideshow, creating a permanent record of the two-year anniversary of her sister’s death.
“Each and every photo means a great deal to me. The thought, creativity and dedication to bringing Ava into everyone’s life is more than I could have ever hoped for,” Hecht said.