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Growing up and putting down roots

One of the first things I remember from my freshman year of college was the commencement ceremony welcoming all the new students. While I don’t actually recall who spoke or what they talked about, I do remember being handed a small green acorn along with my classmates at the conclusion of the event.

The tiny little gift had been unexpected, but I soon learned this was a school tradition. “Elon,” the name of the university, also happens to be the Hebrew word for “oak.” The acorn was a visual metaphor, of course. New students are supposed to be like seeds ready to grow for the next four years of school.

To be completely honest, I have no idea what I ultimately did with that little acorn. I saved it for a while, thinking it might be a nice good luck charm. But in the end, it disappeared somewhere never to be found again, lost like how socks tend to go missing in the wash. And I forgot about it because, well, it was only an acorn. I have plenty of those in my backyard already.

I continued my four years at school and didn’t even think of that little metaphor about growing up because I was too busy learning and having fun and well, growing up. I was reminded, however, at graduation. Instead of an acorn, my fellow students and I received small oak saplings. They were not much more than a wispy stick with a few leaves poking out of the top.

The tradition is still kind of funny as I think back on it. Who goes to their college graduation expecting to receive an actual tree along with their diploma? I certainly didn’t. But it was a nice conclusion to the metaphor, the idea that the seed had sprouted and was ready to go put down roots somewhere.

So I took the little sapling home with me back to Northampton County, which is where I already had put down roots and wanted to remain. My father helped me plant the little oak in our backyard after some intense discussion about where was the best spot to put it. It was my first time planting a tree, and even though I’ve planted others since, that one is still my favorite.

It’s been seven years since then, and I’ve had fun watching the tree grow up. It’s unique in its own way, like how its trunk is a little crooked in one spot from lack of rain one summer. (I tried to water it the best I could!) When I first got it, I could hold it easily in my hands, but now the tree is twice my height and I can’t even wrap one hand all the way around the tree trunk anymore.

One time, I thought the little tree had died because spring had arrived but there were no new leaves on its branches. I didn’t even realize I was so attached to the tree until I cried about the loss. As it turned out, however, my little tree was just a late bloomer that year.

My oak tree doesn’t have any acorns on it yet, but it will eventually. Each year, it grows bigger and bigger as its roots dig deeper and deeper into the ground. Nature nourishes the tree and it thrives. This is an excellent environment to grow in.

All in all, I think it’s a pretty nice metaphor.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.