Elon celebrates international students with a tree-planting ceremony

The eight annual International Tree Planting took place on South Campus on Thursday, May 23, and allowed international students to plant their oak saplings.

Each year, the Global Education Center holds a tree-planting ceremony for international students. Elon started the ceremony in 2017 when the international community and Elon came together and decided that there had to be a way for international students to represent their Elon legacy that was different from passing along their sapling to a friend or attempting to take it across international borders.

“We decided together that a way to honor the lasting impact of our international community and the legacy our students impart upon Elon is to establish the international grove,” said Kristen Aquilino, director of international student services.

Community is important and is something that challenges, protects, remains steady and helps guide, Aquilino said. “The term ‘international community’ is intentionally used at Elon when speaking about international students,” she said.

From left to right. Leandra Lorenz ‘24, from Germany, Linn Hertz Saebboe ‘24, from Sweden, Hollie Thurgood ‘24, from England and Juan Callejo Ropero ‘24, from Spain.

“What I appreciate most about Elon is the community,” said Leandra Lorenz ‘24, who is from Germany. She spoke about how the community was warm and welcoming and that the people she met helped form some of her favorite memories.

Every year for the ceremony a quote is shared with the graduating class that is said to represent them and their time at Elon. This year Aquilino shared a quote from “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. “When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you ‘help’ individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft. …. This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

Stephen Gyan ‘24, from Ghana

Elon students receive an oak sapling at Numen Lumen: Senior Baccalaureate Reflection during Commencement Week and it represents their growth while attending Elon. “Elon” is Hebrew for “oak.” Stephen Gyan G’24 graduated from Elon’s Master of Arts in Higher Education Program, and earlier this year he spoke at the weekly Numen Lumen reflection hosted by the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.

“I enjoyed the cool, peaceful moment of Numen Lumen. Listening to amazing stories of people and being able to share my story,” said Stephen Gyan ‘24 from Ghana. “In my culture trees, plants represent some sort of legacy. This is sort of like a memory of me here at Elon.”

Joining the new graduates at the ceremony was President Connie Ledoux Book, who offered her gratitude to the students for weaving Elon into their stories. “Whether you’ve been here a semester or all four years I’m so grateful that you chose Elon as part of your educational journey,” Book said. “I’m sure when you return to your home country, there’s going to be a period of transition. You’re bringing all of this new knowledge and experience back into your relationships with your friends and family but also into your professional lives and many demands, because you’re a different person.”

The tree-planting ceremony was filled with laughter and memories as the students reminisced about their time at Elon. Linn Hertz Saebboe ‘24, from Sweden and Hollie Thurgood ‘24, from England spoke about memories they have had at Elon and since they became friends. “I’m on the track team, so I would say when we won conference,” Hertz Saebboe said when asked about a favorite memory. For Thurgood, it was the first American football game she attended. “It was pretty cool,” she said.

The International Grove is a place that honors the legacies of international students at Elon. “I think it’s pretty nice because everybody else will be able to find it at their hometowns and for us Elon was home for two years, and we obviously can’t find it at home. It just feels like leaving something behind,” said Nina Lichtenberger ‘24, from Germany.

International students, faculty, staff and friends gathered for the eighth annual International Tree Planting at the International Grove on Elon University’s Campus on Thursday, May 23.

Juan Callejo Ropero ‘24 is from Spain and said he likes the fact that he can always come back to Elon and has established roots on campus. Joining Ropero at the ceremony was his mother, Pepa Ropero. “For me, it’s the end of a period of his life and now he has to choose what to do,” Pepa Ropero said.

Not only were international students present, but family and friends and those who supported them along the way. “Gratitude to you – students, families and guests – thank you for making us part of your community, it’s been a privilege and will continue to be,” Aquilino said. “Many congratulations to you all on this hard-earned achievement.”