Spring 2012: Where in the world is your oak sapling?

That's what we asked alumni in our last issue. See all the photos and stories that didn't fit in our print edition here.

2009 alumnus Matt Jenkins’ “Otto Oak” in happier days.

We received so many great submissions from alumni that we needed a Web page to hold them all. Click here to see the photos and stories.

As promised, here is the full-length version of 2009 alumnus Matt Jenkins’ story, “The Mystery of Otto Oak.”


I’ve always thought that receiving an acorn at New Student Convocation and a sapling at Commencement were two of the most symbolic traditions one could experience in college. There likely are countless acorns secured in dresser drawers, jewelry boxes and heavy-duty safes of Elon students and alumni to prove it. There also are myriad saplings, but they can be a little trickier – like mine.

It was perfect: A long, sturdy trunk, a dozen green leaves and potential just beaming from its roots. It was everything I imagined my sapling could be since the day that treasured acorn was placed upon my eager hand just four years prior.

Why I’m describing the sapling handed to the graduate in line before me probably traces back to years of pent-up jealousy.

I received a serviceable sapling. I’ll reiterate – serviceable. Not pretty. Sure, the trunk was as good as any, but the two tired leaves sat on top like a malnourished arugula garnish. However, despite the obvious imperfections, I was a proud father.

“I was thinking Otto,” I said to my sister.

“Otto Oak!” she replied with a giddy smile.

And so Otto Oak was named and adopted into the Jenkins family. A treacherous 14-hour journey still lay ahead, but it was clear Otto had dealt with subpar conditions before. Armed with a moisture-preserving plastic bag and watchful family members, Otto forged north to the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be planted in the family’s backyard.

The combination of small hand shovel, bag of soil, unkinked hose and pair of loving hands successfully teamed up to firmly plant Otto in the welcoming Earth.

“You may struggle now, Otto, but hang in there. I need you to go big and strong, and tick off the neighbors by blocking their view of the ocean, I said.

Assisted by sincere words of encouragement, a wooden stake and a bendy rubber frog to affix it to the stake, Otto was prepared for the wicked summer and brutal winter.

For obvious reasons, we’ll fast forward through the last free summer and first caged winter of my life, and focus in almost a year later to the day. I was trekking to Massachusetts again when I received a call.

“Bro,” said my brother on the other end, carrying an unfortunate, “you-won’t-believe-this” tone. “Bad news. Otto.”

My heart instantly skipped a beat.

“I went out to water him this morning but … he’s gone.”

“Gone?” I asked. How could a tree, however twig-like it may look, simply disappear?

“The wooden stake’s just lying there, but that bendy frog is gone, too,” he explained.

Despite a lengthy search of the area, we were left only wiht the idea that Otto and his trusty bendy-frog sidekick had packed their bags and headed to a more desirable patch of dirt. Or, as the family prefers to believe, their bags were packed for them.

A careless gardener, unknowing animal or malicious neighbor were all suspects, but unfortunately were thorough enough to leave no evidence behind. To this day, almost two years since the “tree-napping,” Otto Oak and his friend the bendy frog remain at large. I can only hope they send a postcard.