One of Clarke University’s oldest traditions is the planting and naming of a class tree. At the beginning of each school year, a ceremony is held, and first-year students have the opportunity to see their class tree being planted. At the same ceremony, the seniors name their tree after voting on the name. This is a tradition that has been going on since 1906, when Sister Mary Bertrand Foley, the first president of Clarke, started it. This tree, a Larch named Penelope by the class of 1910, can still be seen today in front of Eliza Kelly Hall.
Over the years, the class trees have had many different and interesting names. Norm Freund, Clarke Philosophy professor and a great resource on the history of the class trees, states that there a few different categories for tree names. The first category is names referencing world events that occurred around the time that the seniors graduated or sometime during their four years. For example, the class of 2021 recently named their royal red maple Quarantree for the pandemic and quarantine that affected the spring semester. Other categories include plays on words, like Treevolta for John Travolta, Greek or Latin names to celebrate the classics being an important aspect of liberal arts, and memorial names for celebrities or people related to Clarke, such as Diana Teresa in honor of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, who both died during that time. Within the last decade, the university placed signs at each of the class trees stating the name, of the tree, the type, and the class who planted it. These signs designate that it is a class tree and make them easy to find for current students or alumni who wish to find their tree.
Unfortunately, trees sometimes have to be removed due to disease or construction. Norm stated that in the past, class trees were simply removed if they needed to be without any regard for their status. Currently, the facilities staff are much better about trying to replace these trees when they need to be removed. Due to the success and continued growth of the school, trees are often removed to make way for new buildings, such as the 1985 class tree to make room for the Student Activity Center. If the tree is small enough, before the root system has been fully established, it can be moved and replanted. If a class tree has been removed and not replaced, the alumni of that class will sometimes come together to pay for a new tree to be planted for their class.
These trees have been planted for 100 years to honor the four years that the students spent at Clarke University. As the student goes through their academic life at Clarke, they can watch their tree grow with them. It also leaves behind a memorial for these students that will live on long after they have passed away. This tradition is a very important part of Clarke and one that will likely live on long after the current students have graduated.