That's what The Magazine of Elon asked alumni for its Spring 2012 issue. Because all the stories and photos submitted didn't fit in the print edition, the full measure is available here for your reading/viewing enjoyment.
This is my Elon oak. I planted it in May 2010 on the side of a pond in Smyrna, N.C., on the coast. In 2010, there was a problem with the first shipment of Elon saplings and my class ended up with a replacement shipment, which were more akin to undersized twigs. My longtime boyfriend, Clark Riemer '11, planted his full-size Elon oak next to mine, and it already was as large as mine that had been planted a year ago. In August 2011, Smyrna was the epicenter of Hurricane Irene's landfall. Unfortunately, only my oak survived the terrible storm when much mightier trees - including the other Elon oak - were taken down. I think it makes for a nice little underdog tale to see how my tiny oak managed to survive a hurricane.
...reports her sapling is growing in her parents' backyard in Winston-Salem, N.C.
...reports his sapling was eaten by rabbits within two months of his planting it in the backyard.
Here is a picture of me and my daughters Maddie (l) and Sara (r). We are standing right in front of my Elon sapling, which started out very small and is now huge! It is planted at my parents' house in Virginia and has been through hurricanes, tornadoes and even an earthquake. It has seen me graduate from college, find a job, get married and have two wonderful kids. Every time I see my tree, I have wonderful, fond memories of my time at Elon.
My oak sapling made the journey to my hometown of Salisbury, Md., soon after my graduation ceremony. I potted it in a container instead of planting it because I had plans to move to Vermont by the end of the year. I knew it just wasn't time to plant my oak permanently.
After missing the ride up to Vermont when I moved because the moving trailer was too crowded, my sapling remained at my parents' place until this past Thanksgiving. It was protected from its first Vermont winter in a greenhouse my boyfriend and I built at our home in Winooski and will soon be planted in the front yard. I hope it'll be acclimated to the change in weather by then.
I've now "spread my Elon roots" in northwestern Vermont, an area where there's few Elon alumni, for more than a year. I've put my Elon degree to use working for an environmental nonprofit organization whose mission is advocating for a clean, accessible Lake Champlain - the country's sixth-largest lake. There isn't a day I'm not thankful for the experience Elon provided me, the students and professors I met and the knowledge I gained.
Because my parents did such a great job of raising me from a sapling, I chose to let them nurture my Elon sapling until I'm ready to plant myself in one place and put down roots. They're doing a great job, as you can see. My sapling is loving his home in Huntersville, N.C.!
Sadly, the sapling was a subtype of oak that doesn't survive well in New Jersey. The partners in my firm found this out after weeks of daily struggle to keep mine alive. We had planted it in the office's backyard. Please warn other northerners.
Truth be told, this is my second Elon oak. The first one was left in the care of my parents while was in graduate school. When I returned to Elon to see some of my friends graduate in 2004, I waited to make sure all the graduates had taken their saplings before I asked for my second. A month later, I finished graduate school and considered my second Elon sapling a graduation gift. To this day, the sapling is doing well, but I have stunted his growth as he has traveled to multiple jobs, homes and states in a progressively larger pot. I closed on my home on April 27 (Arbor Day - a good sign!) and the back yard has the space for me to plant my tree. Hopefully, once it's removed from the pot and planted, the oak will continue to grow and prosper in its new location, just as I hope to.
This is probably not going to be the happiest of stories when it comes to those little oak saplings, but it's important nonetheless. After graduating from Elon, I had no choice but to bring my sapling down to Florida. Southwest Florida is home to gorgeous palm trees, but it's no place for young oak saplings.
After getting a job in DC, I left my sapling in Florida, in the capable hands of my grandma as I was moving into a 17th-floor studio apartment in Arlington, Va. I tested my luck with greenery on my balcony and had some success but realized, based on the extreme sunlight and wind 17 floors up, my apartment was never going to be a place for a young oak sapling. I'd call my grandma from time to time to check on my little sapling. Typically, she reported that it gained some leaves, lost a few, but generally was doing pretty well.
Then, tragedy struck. I hadn't talked to my grandma in some time about the sapling but was reminded of it after a classmate mentioned how well his was doing in NC. I immediately called her to ask how my tree was doing. Slowly, and with the tone and care only a grandmother has, she told me that my almost two-year-old sapling was merely a stick. Florida's tropical heat took my poor little sapling too early, before I ever got to plant it for generations to see. Fortunately, being the caring grandmother that she is, we hatched a plan to return to some graduation in the future to "acquisition" a new sapling. If that doesn't work, I still have my acorn from all those years ago.
My sapling has been living in Marietta, Ga., in a very large clay pot on my parents' deck for the past six years. It's grown too big for the pot, and my parents soon will be transplanting it to their yard or a public space that allows planting. I'm always happy that I get to see my tree when I visit them.
I will never forget receiving my sapling on that wonderful day in May many moons ago! My little oak traveled home with me to Maryland then began its rooted life on my aunt's farm outside of Shippensburg, Pa. This farm has been in our family since the 1880s, so I found it only fitting that my Elon oak be planted there. I watched that little tree grow - my aunt and uncle helped to protect it from deer and rabbit for years. Sadly, in the fall of 2000, my uncle passed away, and months later, so did my aunt. The farm remained in our family, but I haven't been back in years. I do think of my Elon oak often, and if the farm is ever sold, I'm going in with a bulldozer and bringing my oak home with me!
I graduated in 2003 with a BFA in music theatre and moved to New York City the fall of that year to pursue my dreams. My parents kindly planted my sapling in our backyard in York, Pa., until I "had a place of my own." Well, it's nine years later, and I'm still living in New York City and chasing my dream, and the concrete jungle has become my place. It's hard to believe that nearly a decade ago I left Elon wide-eyed and so excited to take on the world.
This tree represents my growth as a person, an artist, a daughter, a sister, a teacher and, now, a wife. What a beautiful journey and what a beautiful tree!
We planted Kasie's oak sapling days after she graduated in our yard in Chesapeake, Va. I call it the tree I paid $100,000 for - the cost of Kasie's tuition. It started out like Kasie - vulnerable, kind of crooked and petite. It's now more than 10 feet tall with a trunk that's starting to show bark. It, like Kasie, received lots of care in its ealry years. We kept it watered through droughts and stacked during windstorms. It sits on the edge of a huge perennial garden, providing protection to the flowers and shrubs below. It's a remarkable tree, just like Kasie, who visits it every time she comes home from the big city (Kasie works as an associate director of online research and operations at the White House).
Within five minutes of receiving my acorn at New Student Orientation, the top fell off, which to my parents was clearly a bad omen. With my hopes for a bountiful college career dashed, my last chance for a successful life post-college rested clearly on the little oak tree that I received at graduation. Into a small ceramic container it went, originally flourishing in a Pinehurst, N.C.-area sunroom, where it may or may not have overdosed on the strong southern rays, thus beginning a slow decline. Neighbors were asked for consultations, different fertilizers and lighting conditions were tried, pots were switched out, all to no avail.
As a last-ditch effort to save the dwindling plant, it was taken to the Moore County Cooperative Extension in hopes their master gardeners might breathe life into the fragile oak. They suggested a transplant into a larger container. Willing to try anything and desperate to save the oak - and my future - of course, we complied. With frequent attention, proper sunlight and not-too-ample watering, the tree slowly began to perk up. Eventually, I moved her to a permanent home in the front yard.
Five years later, she's flourishing in North Carolina's sandy soil, surrounded by family and friends. I've taken root here in North Carolina as well. Thanks to the efforts of many, the tree and I are doing just fine.
This is a photo of my sapling with my mother, Bonnie Lunsford, and her dog, Phoebe, for size comparison. After graduation, we brought the sapling home to Augusta, Ga., and planted it in a pot. Four years later, the sapling outgrew the pot and we made the faithful leap to plant it in the ground in my parents' backyard, where it's still growing and thriving today.
My oak tree was planted in my parents' back yard in Watertown, N.Y. - 710 miles north of Elon. It's survived six hard winters. It started at about three feet tall and is now close to eight feet tall. There have been winters where the tree has been completely covered in snow - a true story of survival of the fittest! (My mother has another sapling that she keeps in Tampa, Fla., and though it's a much nicer climate, it's not doing so well.) I currently own a home across town in Watertown and would like to transplant my tree on my property - but I'm worried about disrupting the roots.
My parents and I have laughed about my tree for years. It started its journey from Elon and arrived in East Grand Rapids, Mich., in spring 2007 (pictured at left). The following winter, it survived 80 inches of snow. In summer 2008, the pot moved 40 miles west to Spring Lake, Mich., where it later survived another winter of 120 inches of snow. After surviving two more rough Michigan winters - and an attack by a deer - the tree moved with my family 250 miles south to Washington, Mo., where it finally was planted permanently in the ground. In its first winter in Missouri, it survived just six inches of snow and is 56 inches tall. It stands in a place of prominence on the north side of my parents' home, on a little hill overlooking the Missouri River. It's sprouting leaves and the birds are deciding whether its branches are strong enough to sit on.
After I received my sapling, it went immediately into a small pot on my parents' back porch (pictured at left). I figured I'd have my own place by the end of the year and plant it in my yard. A year went by ... and another ... and several more. The pot kept being switched out for a bigger size. My husband, Jared, and I just bought our first home in December and my Elon oak had a spot in the front yard the weekend after we moved. It stands about five feet tall and we look forward to seeing it grow as we put down our roots in Garner, N.C.
The sapling is in front of my parents' house in Madison, N.J. It was planted just a few days after graduation and has survived some pretty tough storms, including the Tri-State early-season snowstorm in October 2011 that knocked many trees down, Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and the blizzard that hit the day after Christmas in 2010.
My roommate at Elon was a year younger than I and her parents lived an hour away in the woods of Lexington, N.C. When I graduated, I wanted to stay close to her, and we devised a plan that we could be roomies forever if we planted our trees together. So, before we left for my post-graduation road trip, we planted my tree at her parents' house in the woods. They planted hers next to it in 2009. Now we're together forever!
After graduating from Elon, I moved into a graduate program in Auburn, Ala. I knew there woudln't be time or space to care for my Elon sapling and decided to leave it home with my dad, who seems to have a green thumb. Dad kept the sapling in a small pot and began moving it to larger pots as it grew. Each time I visited home, I would go to the back yard and check on it. A year after graduation, it was looking great (pictured at left).
After reading the request in the last magazine asking for sapling stories and photos, I emailed my dad and asked him to take a more recent photo. He responded: "This past summer I transplanted it into a larger container. ... It dropped its leaves and, for months, I was hoping it was only in shock. Within the past couple of weeks I found it beyond hope. I've considered getting another so you wouldn't know. Getting another is no problem, but I can't lie. I hope you won't take it to heart. Sorry."
I couldn't help but laugh to know that, just as a parent may secretly replace a child's dead goldfish, my dad still tried to secretly replace my Elon oak sapling. I think it meant as much to him as it did to me!