International students leave their marks on Elon at tree planting ceremony

The sixth annual International Tree Planting took place at the International Grove on Thursday, May 19.

Tucked away on South Campus, past Holt Chapel and behind the Harden Clubhouse, is the International Grove – a plot of land dedicated for Elon’s international students to plant their oak saplings and put down roots on the campus which they have bloomed on and helped to flourish.

On Thursday, May 19, more than 20 students from the Class of 2022 alongside their families and loved ones added to the International Grove at the sixth annual International Tree Planting, cementing their place at Elon forever.

Amid the frenetic pace of Commencement Week and after the ever-changing nature of the past two years, Director of International Student Services Kristen Aquilino asked the students to take a moment to soak in their accomplishments on the eve of the most significant day in their college careers.

“I believe that one of the truest ways to honor a moment and a space is to be fully present within it,” Aquilino said. “I am acutely aware of the speed at which life has been going for all of us … so at this moment, I invite you all just to take a breath.”

The grove and tree planting ceremony was established in 2017 when the international community at Elon came together to create a lasting and tangible way for international students to represent their Elon legacy.

“Elon” is Hebrew for “oak” and each year at Commencement, Elon students receive an oak sapling to represent their growth while at the university. Before 2017, many international students would pass along their oak saplings to their American classmates to plant because of difficulty transporting them across country borders.

“We decided together that there was a way to honor the tremendous impact of our international community … and the lasting legacy that our students impart upon Elon. So, that’s how the International Grove was ultimately born,” Aquilino said.

President Connie Ledoux Book was appreciative of both the history of the moment and the international students themselves, as she spoke during the tree planting ceremony. Book expressed her gratitude to the students for sharing their richness with the entire Elon community by being active and involved students.

“I’ve always felt that if Elon is doing it right, then international students should change who we are. And I think planting your tree here is symbolic of that,” Book said. “I know many of you from all the different organizations and the many times you raised your hand to participate and be a part of something.”

Many International students assume the role of educator as they answer a flood of questions about their native country, language and culture while immersing themselves in the language and cultures of their new home.

“You take on that responsibility when you raise your hand to be an international student – thinking you’re going to learn about the other country, but in truth, it goes both ways. You’re also a teacher while you’re here,” Book said. “Thank you for being a teacher and you have absolutely left your mark on us.”

Thomas Bic ’22, a French student graduating with a dual degree in international business, was able to share the moment with his parents and friends. He said the tree planting lived up to his expectations and will be a core memory from his time at Elon.

“I think planting a tree is really nice. The symbolism … all the imagery around roots, being rooted in Elon and representing the core values is important,” Bic said.

Basile Herve ’22, also from France and majoring in international business, said his parents couldn’t make it to the tree planting due to a delayed flight but he was thankful for the family of his classmates who he was able to share the moment with.

Following graduation, Herve plans to attend graduate school in Switzerland but will never forget the experiences gained and the connections forged at Elon.

“Elon has been a part of my life and it will stay forever,” Herve said.