White Oak

This spring, we’re celebrating the inauguration of Unity’s 10th president, Dr. Stephen Mulkey.  As is our custom, we planted a tree to honor the occasion — this time a white oak. Professor Doug Fox, campus tree man and director of the Center for Sustainability & Global Change had this to say about the white oak and its symbolism for Unity College and Dr. Mulkey’s presidency.

White oak, Quercus alba, is rarely found this far north. Its ability to grow in a wide variety of soils, its ring-porous vascular system, its monecious flowering, indicate that it may be one of the trees we see migrating northward with climate change.

While Unity College still promotes mitigation of greenhouse gases, we also recognize that adaptation has to be a part of any scientifically-grounded response to climate change. We don’t know if white oak will come out as one of the winners in the process of adapting to climate change in our area, but it likely will be, hence, today we are planting for the future.

White oak, with its 500-year lifespan, may also symbolize that Unity College is finding its niche in the landscape of academics. The landscape of Unity College has been dominated by many short-lived, aggressive pioneer species—paper and gray birch, aspen, and willow—appropriate for a young college gaining a foothold in the marketplace of higher education. It is time for our landscape to reflect our maturity and our intention to contribute in the long term to the intellectual life of humanity.

Lastly, the white oak is a symbol of resilience and hope. Systems ecologist Hank Shugart pointed out that if the progeny of a single white oak was grown to maturity, in just three generations the biomass originating from that single tree would equal the weight of biomass of all living organisms on earth. Working with the earth’s inherent recuperative powers, we at Unity College can become co-workers with nature in the Great Work of our generation.

Join us for official inauguration celebration will take place on May 12th prior to this year’s commencement activities.


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