A tree is a symbol for many things. It is a representation of growth, nature, and even life itself. However, in the case of UC Irvine’s celebration of Earth Week and the 2013 Human Security Award, a tree is a symbol of much more. First and foremost, it is a symbol of a branching sustainable community and their rooted solidarity. It is a glowing, growing beacon for those who care for the planet, but who also feel like no one else does.
Beginning with CUSA director, Dr. Richard Matthew, and his Sustainability II class on April 17th, a tree was unveiled and introduced to a crowd of curious eyes. Undergraduate CUSA members Tania Reza (eARTh Studio Assistant) and Jaimie Wan (Operations Intern) established this collective art piece, “Thumbs Up: A Commitment to Sustainability,” to gather sustainability pledges through a more visible sense of solidarity between environmentally aware individuals. The tree sat embedded on a canvas at the front end of the auditorium. Although an aesthetically pleasing painting, the image appeared empty and frail. While the tree’s trunk stood proud and unmovable, its branches did not carry a single leaf. It seemed there would be no blooming opportunities nor sprouted followers to carry on the tree’s natural legacy, but in fact, that was its underlying purpose. Following the professor, rows of students were called up to the front of the room to dip their thumbs in various shades of green, soy-based paint provided by The Green Initiative Fund at UCI. Once painted, each of the students pressed their finger into the canvas to give the painting its well-needed foliage.
As the collective art piece began to take shape, Matthew kept the awaiting participants’ attention by holding a very down to earth, no-nonsense talk about sustainability with students. This discussion not only addressed the students’ most personal concerns about ecological issues, but was also a truthfully rare intersection between a wise professional and a room of curious minds. Responding to students with the accumulated, first-hand knowledge of his career, Matthew explained complex and contentious current affairs, from the incongruence of businessmen and politicians, the historical regard of recycling as a financial burden, and the United States’ post-WWII recuperation transforming into the always-need-more consumerism mentality we know now.
The tree is also a symbol of transformation. Over the course of the week, thumbprints from across the student body, local community, and beyond accrued on the canvas. As individuals found their big fingers transformed into green thumbs, they also collectively helped grow and transform their bare tree into a blossoming behemoth of bark. By Tuesday, April 23rd, the canvas had received over 400 unique thumbprints from various campus passer-bys on Ring Road, at one point even getting 200 participants in two hours! Other distinguished guests at the thumb-printing booth included Chancellor Drake, the Irvine Chief of Police, David Maggard Jr., representatives of UC Irvine’s social media, and various faculty and staff. And if an inspiring, conglomerating poster was not enough to establish an empowering sense of camaraderie, Reza and Wan also included a post-thumb-printing photo booth, where each participant of the art project was photographed with their proud thumbs up. The tree’s transformative process was indeed an inspiring sight to behold, and it would be this inspiration and overall passion for sustainability that would carry to CUSA’s 2013 Human Security Award on April 24th, where the final thumbprint was placed by this year’s recipient, Chris Jordan. At the end of the night, over 900 bright green leaves covered the invigorated tree, revealing the previously obscured collective of sustainable believers. Perhaps with a more visible community, greater strides toward a collaborative, sustainable lifestyle can be achieved.
For a glimpse of the experience, view the complete photo gallery of the night.