Fletcher students returned from spring break to find a blossoming tree in the entrance of the Edwin Ginn Library. With tassels of cloth hanging from its limbs, the tree rests in a corner across from the circulation desk bearing the inscribed wishes and dreams of students, faculty and passersby.
The inspiration for what has become known as the “Wish Tree” came from a photo submitted to the Fletcher Perspectives Gallery, which displays photographs from students’ internships or jobs, according to Cynthia Rubino, the director of the library and information services at Fletcher.
The photograph that inspired the Wish Tree was taken by Mariya Ilyas, a first-year in the Master of Arts in Law & Diplomacy (MALD) program at Fletcher. It was one of multiple photos she took in Turkey, where she spent last year teaching English on a Fulbright Scholarship. Ilyas took this particular photo on her first day in the region of Cappadocia while walking toward a valley.
“This scene, just literally on your left, was this kind of stop area, just this beautiful, empty, haunted scene,” Ilyas said. “And in it, it had a wheelbarrow, one tree with pots on it, one tree with pieces of cloths tied to it, broken pottery on this rack, a dried riverbed in the back and a couple of horses roaming. It was incredible.”
The tree covered in cloth resonated particularly with Ilyas, who realized she had seen it before as a child growing up in a small village in northwestern Pakistan.
“[In Pakistan] was this tree that always sat at the riverbanks of a cemetery,” Ilyas said. “This tree had these colorful pieces of cloth tied to it. I always thought it was someone’s laundry. I didn’t realize what it was.”
It wasn’t until 2011, on a trip back to Pakistan, that she learned the significance of the tree from her father.
“He explained to me that the pieces of cloth actually represent these physical representations of prayers or hopes and dreams,” Ilyas said. “People who are grieving or need God’s help tie it as a gesture to be physically closer to Allah. The fact that everyone’s hopes and dreams are on that tree, it makes the force more powerful.”
Ilyas later discovered that such trees are common in other cultures as well.
“This is pretty universal in the sense that it’s not unique to one particular culture,” Ilyas said. “For example, Native Americans have a similar kind of fabric-tying to the tree. It’s pretty common in Southeast Asian and East Asian cultures, definitely in Islamic cultures.”
Rubino and Anulfo Baez, a staff assistant at Ginn Library, were inspired by Ilyas’s story to create Ginn’s own Wish Tree. They decided to use beige, green and white cloth to reflect vitality and the coming of spring, and hang them from a real tree that came from Rubino’s yard.
“My husband and I are doing some landscaping, and we had this area that we needed to clear out because we had a tree growing under a tree. We took the tree growing under the walnut tree and brought it [to Fletcher]. So it wasn’t like I just hacked down a tree,” Rubino said, laughing. “It’s more environmentally friendly!”
The tree went up in Ginn the week after spring break and will remain there until after commencement. Baez believes that the exhibition of the tree comes at a perfect time.
“With this political uncertainty, a lot of us tend to focus on the negative, so the tree really gives us an avenue to focus on the positive and see peoples’ lives through it as well,” he said.
Students from the entire Tufts community are encouraged to come write a wish to hang up on the tree.
“It’s an invitation to everyone and anyone who’s come through the library — not just the Fletcher community — to come make a wish about anything,” Ilyas said.
Rubino sad that there have been a variety of wishes put on the tree since it was placed in Ginn.
“The tree has some quotes, there are of course some political thoughts and wishes and dreams, and you have the fluffy stuff too,” Rubino said. “What I like about the tree is that it speaks about everybody’s wishes and dreams, and they vary. It’s very personal.”
Some of these wishes include: “I wish there will be peace in the whole world and to all children,” “I wish I had a summer internship,” “I wish to find true love,” and “I wish that 20 years from now, I won’t have any regrets — live your life!”
Baez said he hopes the tree will help build community and start dialogue.
“This could definitely be that outlet that [students] need to write whatever they’re thinking or whatever their wishes are on it,” he said. “We hope that the overall Tufts community can recognize that you could bring a lot of people together just with something so symbolic as a tree.”
According to Ilyas, the number of wishes on the tree has grown significantly since it was first introduced.
“Now there’s probably about 30-40 wishes on there, and that’s pretty nice,” Ilyas said. “I think the fact that it’s blooming with the coming of spring is just so beautiful and uplifting.”
Ilyas, Rubino and Baez hope to see it grow even more in the coming weeks.
“My hope for [the tree] is that people stop by and read what else is blooming on the tree, and hopefully smile and have a good day,” Ilyas said.