VUB community pays tribute to late colleagues during annual Moment of Compassion

VUB community pays tribute to late colleagues during annual Moment of Compassion

As a Compassionate University, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel wants to encourage conversation about loss, grief and illness

Thursday 16 November 2023 – Students and staff at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) gathered at dusk today around the Monument of Compassion on the campus in Etterbeek. Together, they remembered the colleagues and peers they have lost in 2023. The annual moment of remembrance is one of several initiatives with which VUB makes space for sorrow and compassion in its community.

With music and comforting words, the annual Moment of Compassion allowed the VUB community to pay tribute to the people they have had to say goodbye to. Students and staff also took time to think about colleagues who are sick, caring for others or otherwise going through difficult times, so they feel supported and not isolated.

“With the remembrance ceremony, we’ve created a moment to reflect together on the people we have had to say goodbye to,” says rector Jan Danckaert. “To express our appreciation. To fill the space they have left behind. It helps us to make space for sympathy and sorrow, for warmth and connection, at times when our community is struggling. That is the kind of university we want to be. A Compassionate University. A university that recognises and supports illness, loss and grief and involves the whole community in its support.”

In 2019, under the initiative of former rector Caroline Pauwels, VUB signed a declaration of intent to become a Compassionate University. The annual Moment of Compassion, the Monument of Compassion, and training for managers and lecturers about how to deal with grief, loss or illness among colleagues or students are just some of the outcomes.

Also in 2019, VUB established the Compassionate Communities expertise centre, or COCO. This collaboration of eight research groups from various faculties aims to contribute to a more compassionate society by offering communities the knowledge and capacity to provide care and support in times of serious illness, death and loss.

The remembrance ceremony takes place each year before St V, in which VUB and its francophone sister university ULB commemorate their founder, Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen. For the second consecutive year, St V is spread over two days, with the first part on the same evening as the Moment of Compassion.

Before I Die wall

In the last academic year, VUB expanded the Moment of Compassion with a wishing tree, where the names of colleagues who had died were read out and their names hung on the tree. For this year’s edition, the university presented a permanent Before I Die wall.

“The wall is part of a global art project in which the whole VUB community is invited to reflect on our mortality and think about what really matters to us,” says Jan Danckaert. “The concept was developed by artist Candy Chang in New Orleans. There are more than 5,000 walls in 35 languages and 75 countries, including China, Argentina, Italy, Iraq, Finland, India, Japan and South Africa. And now there is one in Brussels too, on the VUB campus in Etterbeek.”


The remembrance ceremony was also the closing event of Compassionate Week. Throughout the week, students and staff have taken part in activities around grief and loss, on campus and online. Through workshops and seminars, writing message of remembrance or sharing a drink in the Compassionate Café, together they have made loss, illness and grief more bearable and easier to talk about.


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Nathalie Vlaemynck
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Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.


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