Anderson University senior Brandon Miller, 22, got his hands dirty in a fight for peace. He grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it toward the root-ball of a weeping beach tree planted Tuesday in a ceremony at Anderson University. More than 100 others followed him. The tree was planted in the name of peace behind the Nicholson Library in the valley. It replaced a tree planted in the 1960s by students in protest of the Vietnam War — the tree, a Ginkgo, died later due to severe weather [As those who have gathered for the dedication ceremony watch former Anderson University President Robert Reardon leans over to help sophomore Nathaniel Boggs smooth some final mounds of dirt over the freshly planted Weeping Beech behind the Nicholson Library Tuesday morning--photo credit: Jennifer Goldsmith].
“It shows people on campus and in the community that although we’re Anderson University, a Christian school, that we can have an impact and make a difference,” Miller said.
Senior Emily Race, 21, started the movement to replace the tree several months ago after discovering what the students did 40 years ago in protest.
“I told several of my friends and students involved with the Student Peace Initiative. They wanted to help,” Race said. “We wanted to pick a tree that was symbolic of peace. And what could be more representative than any tree that weeps.”
Students in the 1960s wanted to do something different other than the rioting that was going on across the country on other campuses, Race told the crowd. She felt it was a time to recommit to peace and what it means. She motioned toward the tree [Director of International Student Services at Anderson University, Scott Martin, leads others in prayer to dedicate a freshly planted Weeping Beech to peace behind the Nicholson Library on the Anderson University campus--photo credit: Jennifer Goldsmith].
“It looks a little bedraggled now,” she said. “But that’s a little how peace starts out.”
In the 1960s, the students’ mood toward the country was very similar, said Robert H. Reardon, past university president, 1958-1983. He was president when the students planted the first tree and came to watch the second dedication. It was his comments on the first planting in a video, “Holy Places” that prompted Race to action.
“Forty years ago, students were hostile —the whole country was in arms. The presidents said they were going to get us out of Vietnam. When the students heard that we began bombing Cambodia, and that the war was escalating — they felt betrayed,” Reardon recalled. They came to him to ask permission to plant the tree. “There are a lot of similarities here today. I think most of the students here today want to see us get out of Iraq.”
This sort of demonstration must be student led, said AU President James Edwards. He was a staff member of AU when the first tree was planted. Peace activism like Tuesday’s planting isn’t anything the administration can start, said Edwards.
He added that the planting Tuesday represents an idealism that more people should have He said that it’s often good that students first think and act with their hearts and then their heads to make change happen.
“I remember the tension,” Edwards said of almost 40 years ago. “There was such a hostile and divisive feeling in the world then. Today, there seems to be a frustration about what is going on in the world.”
— Avon Waters is a reporter for the Herald Bulletin in Anderson. Story reprinted with permission.