You Should Care: To Plant a Tree

by Elisabeth Wilder – Horizon Columnist


You would think I was crazy if I told you that receiving posters of students from year’s past, poop-doodles, thrift store gems, hats, couches, and just about anything else you would never want would make college students beam from ear to ear with joy and excitement.

It’s not a joke, though. At the end of every year, the current resident assistants (RAs) of Hesston College meet with the future RAs and pass down a legacy item to keep in their mod for the upcoming year. The items are anything from the objects mentioned above, to hand towels, spelling posters for children, unicorn helmets, and even a giant metal bar, but every item brings some sort of combination of smiles, laughs, and awes. There is a story behind each of the items that has been told for the past two, three, four or more years. Some of the items themselves have been around longer than some of the RAs even knew Hesston existed.

As each new RA marveled and giggled with pride at their new sacred object, many of the current RAs had a look of melancholy in their eyes. Their item was no longer theirs, their role here was almost complete, and their time was slowly drawing to an end. Soon, new people would take their place and live the life that they had so thoroughly enjoyed.

It was never theirs to being with, though. Like each legacy item passed on that has found a new companion each year, your experience, our experience here at Hesston College is to be shared with future generations. Hesston College cannot be just yours or mine. It belongs to so many others whose lives will be forever shaped and changed by their experience here. We occupy this space, these positions, and these responsibilities for a short while, but they will withstand more time than we will.

What is here doesn’t belong to any of us, because it belongs to all of us. It belongs to those who have been here, those who are still here, and all the thousands more who will come. Like each legacy item that has been so carefully cared for by each RA, we must care for this place so that others can live in its glory. We cannot abuse our campus, because when we abuse what is not ours we only harm those who will use it in the future. All of us must exercise care for what we do with our borrowed abode.

This principle goes beyond Hesston College. While we may call this earth our home, it is in no way ours. We will only occupy this earth for a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the earth’s lifetime; and it must be treated with great care and love. To say that the earth is yours to do with as you please is like saying that you should have input on Apple products because you own an iPhone. Our portion is so small, but unlike the iPhone analogy, we actually have the power to make an impact on the earth; for better or worse.

Treating the earth poorly and without care is to damage something that was never even ours to begin with. What we do to this world goes beyond any of us and will survive long after we have past. Every tree that is cut down, every ecosystem that is destroyed, and every pound of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the air will have more of an effect on future generations than most of us will with our short lives.

Everything we do, every place we go, and everything we own will eventually belong to someone else. This is the joy of life built with countless opportunities. Although it may be hard to leave this campus, these people, and this life, we all must do it so others can know what we know. What is good cannot be kept selfishly forever, for others must taste and see for themselves.

It is said that “A society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they will never sit in.” according to a Greek proverb, which is fitting for this transitional time. As students and faculty leave for summer jobs, service, new colleges, new jobs, and other new opportunities, each of us will have opportunities to plant trees. In our new roles, we can plant trees of friendship, change, justice, and actual, non-metaphorical trees. We have the power to do things that will span longer than our time at Hesston College, our time at our job, or our time on this earth.

As the year comes to a close, we must now give back our borrowed time. Some will come back for another year or two and borrow more time; while others are at the end of their limit. There is still time for all of us to plant trees, to make a difference, and to do something for others. What we do does not end with where we are now. My hope is that this isn’t a time of sorrow, but rather a time to celebrate what has been accomplished in the name of others. Like a story many of us are familiar with, may we each look back on our time here and our creation and say, “It is good.”

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