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We all begin small.

In 2016, Dr. Charles Elachi retired from his position as the Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The Studio was asked to develop a series of gifts to honor his contributions throughout his 15 years of leadership. During my research, I stumbled across an amazing story from the Museum of American History called “What it means to be an American.” The story describes his journey as a boy from a small town in Lebanon to his position as the Director of JPL. 

We found it appropriate to present Dr. Elachi with a gift that honored his journey and also his ongoing dedication to pushing the edge of possibility. The Cedar of Lebanon tree became the perfect metaphor. Not only a beloved tree to the Lebanese people, but one with a long and rich history. To the ancient Mediterranean world it was widely known as the best building material of its time and became a symbol of strength and endurance.

It also is a species with the potential for enormous growth and can live more than 2000 years. The tree we planted is a teenager, 14 years old and 30 feet tall. Right now, like a human teenager, it looks a little awkward, but it will grow into a magnificent specimen-tree rising 150 feet tall with an enormous canopy.

Surrounding the trunk of the young tree is a 9 foot diameter ring which shows the trunk size of the “future tree” when it reaches maturity. There are two inscriptions on the ring. One side reads "Dare Mighty Things”, a phrase that became Dr. Elachi's motto to describe the spirit of JPL. And the other talks about the tree's future and its potential growth over a 2000 year lifespan.

Since Charles Elachi has always maintained a strong focus on the future, we did not want this tree to become a symbol of the past. By placing the future diameter of the tree around the base of its trunk, we ask visitors to imagine the size of the tree when it has fully grown. This vision of growth, presented by the ring, is a "dare" to JPLers to use their brainpower, grit and ingenuity to shape a future world where this tree can grow for the next 2000 years and fill the expanse of the ring. That would be a mighty thing.

Creative Lead: David Delgado
Creative Strategy: David Delgado, Dan Goods, Laurie Dickason, The Studio
Illustration: Liz Barrios De La Torre
Fabrication: Fernando Escala
Advisors: Michael Greene, Blaine Baggett
Arborists: Valerie Ferchaw (Brightview Landscaping)
Tree Sourcing/ Miracle Workers: Valerie Ferchaw, Tony Montgomery
Charles and Valerie Elachi , June 2016 Photo Credit: Dan Goods

Charles and Valerie Elachi , June 2016
Photo Credit: Dan Goods