News Staff Writer
“Come plant some trees!” shouts an enthusiastic student at passers-by on the university quad. His name is Julian Johnson, an environmental studies and ecology student at UNC Asheville who takes great passion in his project, Honoring Your Roots, a project that creates a legacy for UNCA alumni using oak saplings.
“That tree is you starting in your career. You’re the little sapling. You don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know if you’re going to get a lot of sun this year or not. You’re going to eventually become a big tree that’s going to provide shade for other little trees. Your career is going to get bigger and blossom out into different branches, you’ll touch other people’s lives,” Johnson said.
Students were encouraged to take time out of their day to plant acorns that would eventually turn into beautiful oak trees. White oak and red maple saplings will be given to those supporting alumni who contributed to UNCA’s Pisgah Scholars Program.
“We planted 100-200 acorns and now they’re all just popping up out of their acorns, and they’re leafing out, they just look so cool, we’ve been caring for them all winter. Just watering them every couple of weeks to make sure they’re alive. It’s been an amazing experience. When you grow something and it actually comes out of the ground, for someone who does that, it’s just an amazing feeling. I put all this time into this one little acorn and now it’s going to be a tree,” Johnson said.
These trees will be growing and offered to students graduating in later years. Johnson hopes that the planting of saplings becomes a yearly event so that students every year can receive a tree at their spring commencement during graduation.
“I think this event is really about being mindful of your surroundings and your impact on the world,” Johnson said. “We cherish our learning here and want to bring that with us.”
Johnson has been the project manager of the UNCA Office of Sustainability for more than a semester and a half. He said he is passionate about protecting the environment.
“I started off doing an internship there and they had this idea of somehow incorporating saplings into the graduation ceremony, maybe offering them, but they didn’t know how to actually bring that to reality. So I was sort of the person putting it into action and making it happen,” Johnson said.
While he used to be a computer science student Johnson found his calling in nature and environmental sustainability after spending some time in Asheville. He wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives and the world around him.
“A tree can consume an incredible amount of carbon from the air and can be used in different forms to continue it’s life. I just found that really powerful with this message that not only are you taking a piece of UNCA with you,” Johnson said, “There’s that notion of actually being sustainable and planting a tree in the ground.”
Tamia Dame, another student helping with the planting event, is particularly fond of the white oaks and is excited of the sentimental significance of having a tree of your own. Dame is an environmental management and policy student and also works at the Office of Sustainability with Johnson.
“This is a project that we’re launching for the first year to offer spring graduates a sapling of their own to plant and watch grow as they do,” Dame said. “I’ve helped promote the event on our website, posting on social media, and trying to get the word out.”
Dame is hopeful for her graduation in the spring of 2020 and to receive a sapling of her own. She plans on planting her sapling at her grandparents house as they have helped support her a lot through college.
She sees the saplings as a way to connect students who are graduating with both nature, the university and future students, as there’s a lot of intersection of awareness and mindfulness going into it.
Students can purchase their sapling for graduation online at the UNCA website on the Honor Your Roots page.
“It’s unca.edu/saplings, that’s where you can find a place to reserve your commencement sapling. It is $20.19 which is going to be towards our scholarship fund to support future students. Which is why we call the project ‘Honoring Your Roots.’ It’s essentially helping provide for future students so they can experience the same journey that others have experienced at UNCA,” Dame said.
One of those participating in planting was Miranda Murray, an environmental studies student who plans on graduating this December.
“I will definitely get a sapling. I have no idea where I’m going to plant it. I don’t have roots at a permanent home but maybe I’ll give it to a relative or something so I know it’s in a place I can always go back to and experience. Or maybe there’s some organization around town that would be up for having a sapling planted, and it could be something that can be enjoyed by the broader community,” Murray said. “I think this is a really exciting project. It’s a great legacy and a way to remember this big experience at UNCA but still plant trees and give back to the environment.”