Project Looks UP

Anteaters may have noticed that something looked a little different while walking on Ring Road last week. Amongst the usual display of booths promoting clubs and $2 boba, there was an unusual sight: three large corkboards fashioned to spell out the word “UP” and an arrow pointing toward the sky.

This creation was part of the inaugural “Looking UP” project, a weeklong display developed to promote gratitude, inspiration and self-worth. Every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. near the Student Center, students came by and chose from four different paper arrows, each with phrases such as “____ inspires me,” “____ saved my life,” “____ is my hero,” and “____ gives me hope.” Anteaters filled in the blanks, pinned their arrow on the display and wrote a message of thanks on mini chalkboards. By the end of the week, the display was covered from top to bottom with pastel yellow, green, blue and pink arrows.

The project was sponsored by The UnParalleled (UP) Lab, which is a blog to share positive perspectives and stories about inspiring individuals. Created by two UC Irvine alumni, David Ly Khim and Justin Ho, the blog aims to encourage people to pursue their passions and create their own ideas of success and happiness. The Looking UP Project was the blog’s first project, as the creators believed it correlated well with the message of their blog.

Second-year public health major Victoria Wang pitched the idea of the project to the UP Lab, and through the work of co-founders Khim and Ho, UP Lab intern Michelle Vo, and three volunteers Wyatt Sing, Amanda Lu and Tim Casasola, the project came to life last week.

Wang originally wanted to create a project that was very people-oriented and gave students an opportunity to thank important and specific people in their lives. However, through collaboration with other members of the team, the project evolved into showing appreciation for broader things and other aspects of life as well, rather than just people. The team wanted to stress that there are many people, things and ideas to be grateful for.

With the idea planted, the team set to work. After creating a blueprint, they cut plywood into their desired shapes and letters and covered it with cardboard and corkboard. The entire process took about six weekends to complete, and was funded completely out of the team’s own pockets. The price of the construction may have been a little steep, but the rewards that came out of the project were priceless.

“It was a very moving experience,” Vo, a third-year biology major and UP Lab intern, said when reflecting on the week.

“We heard some really incredible, touching stories of people where their loved ones have saved their life, or really have inspired them or have been their hero. It really gets you thinking that people go through certain struggles that you can’t see visibly…it makes you realize how interconnected everyone really is.”

Casasola, volunteer and a third-year psychology and social behavior major, said that another benefit of the project was that it helped students realize their self-worth. He loved seeing the happy surprise on people’s faces when they saw their names on the board and realized that people really do respect and admire them.

Lu, another UP Lab volunteer and second-year business administration major, talked about how this week for her was about give and take. She and the other team members gave a lot of their time for this project, but they took away so many lessons at the end.

“I learned a lot. I learned that you can’t really judge someone just by looking at them because you really don’t know what their story is,” Lu said.

“By having them pin something up on the wall, it’s like they’re sharing a piece of their story with you.”

Co-founder Khim explained that for him, this project provided a kind of catharsis not only for himself, but for others as well.

“It’s a sense of vulnerability that [students] don’t often display in front of people, even to people that they’re close to. We’ve heard plenty of stories and often people would end it with, ‘This is the first time I’ve told anyone this.’” Khim said.

“It’s a sense of catharsis where there are all these emotions and they finally have a platform to release those feelings and share something they’ve been meaning to share for a while.”

Aside from watching the impact this project made on others, the team members explained the significance this endeavor had on them. It gave them the opportunity to bond with a great group of people, and provided a sense of purpose. Even though they had to get up very early each day, it was worth it to see how people were affected by this simple act.

While the display was only up for one week, the team members hope that the message of this project transcends that time period.

“I think the whole point of the project should be carried on every day in everyone’s lives,” Lu said.

“Giving thanks is not just a Thanksgiving thing — it should be an everyday ordeal.”

To learn more, please visit The UP Lab.