As founder of the Green Belt Movement, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai P’94, P’96, Sc.D.’94 has planted a lot of trees in the past 30 years, but none so deeply rooted in history as the tree she planted on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus on Thursday, April 24.
Forever altering the landscape of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Maathai and several community members planted a tree near the Quad in observance of Green Week, in honor of the founder of William Smith College, philanthropist and nurseryman William Smith, and in celebration of the William Smith Centennial.
“A tree is one of the greatest indicators on our planet that life is a cycle,” explained Maathai during the planting ceremony. “As long as we can take care of it, it will be here. I hope that as we plant this tree we will inspire in ourselves that desire to protect life.”
The Asian flowering Kousa Dogwood will serve as a lasting reminder to students, faculty and staff of the strength that Maathai and other leading women have exhibited. “As a woman, Maathai has been a leader in the fight for human rights, for the fair and just allocation of resources and for the preservation of the environment,” said William Smith Dean Debra DeMeis.
“In planting this tree with Dr. Maathai, we add not only to the beauty of the campus but we say in yet another way that William Smith College is a place for leading women.”
Colleges President Mark D. Gearan echoed DeMeis, noting that the tree planting dovetailed with many of the Colleges’ initiatives, including the William Smith Centennial, the Geneva Partnership and the Colleges’ Climate Commitment. Senior Courtney Wilson recalled climbing trees as a child and recognized the importance of trees as a symbol of hope and peace.
“A tree means different things to different individuals,” said Wilson. “However it requires a truly remarkable person to transform an everyday sight into a vehicle of social, political, economic and environmental change. Dr. Maathai has demonstrated to the world the power of the tree.”
During the ceremony, Frank and Donna Pullano, the Geneva couple who served as a host family for Maathai’s daughter, Wanjira, 17 years ago, spoke about the joys of getting to know Maathai and her family and of the rich relationships that are formed as part of the Colleges’ international host family program. The couple also presented Maathai with a memento of her journey—a framed passage from her best-selling memoir, “Unbowed,” and a photograph of Maathai standing among the trees.
“Coming to Geneva is like coming home,” Maathai said. “Planting a tree here and at this time is an exceptional experience for Wanjira and I.”