Memorial tree planting unites campus


Story by Mykaela Cross, Assistant Editor

Members of the Baker community stood #BakerStrong as they participated in a tree planting in remembrance of sophomore Sione Maumau on April 23. The event included a speech from assistant football coach Jason Thoren, a poem reading by President Lynne Murray and a special performance from the Speech Choir, who planned the event.

Students, staff, professors and others gathered in the center of campus to honor the memory and life of Maumau, who died earlier this year, with an American Linden tree directly between Osborne Chapel and Collins Library.

Dean of Students Cassy Bailey was thankful to be a part of the event. She found that it was a positive opportunity for the Baker community to celebrate the life of a student who meant much to many on campus.

“I thought the event was marvelous,” Bailey said. “I thought Dr. Emel did a wonderful job of organizing it, her leadership was just great.”

From where she stood in front of the crowd of students, Bailey could see the event’s effects play out on those in attendance. To her, their reactions were priceless.

“I really got the chance to absorb what was happening and as people spoke I got to watch the faces that listened,” Bailey said. “For me that will be the most memorable – to see how each and every person was so genuinely affected by the moment and the memory.”

If she could share a memory to those who did not get the chance to go, it would be Thoren’s words.

“He spoke very eloquently about how the tree will continue to grow, and as students, faculty and staff come back year after year, this tree will forever be part of the campus just as Sione will forever be part of our memory, our hearts and our minds,” Bailey said. “I thought [Thoren] did a great job explaining about that symbolism of life replanted and renewed.”

Seeing Speech Choir perform something personalized and filling in the dirt into the young tree were humbling moments for Bailey. She felt fortunate to have been a part of the event and gives thanks to everyone who came together to remember Maumau.

“The turnout was amazing for the event and I would want to thank all of those who came out to celebrate with us,” Bailey said. “It is really for me quite a resolution to have a happy moment about Sione. Some of my last moments of thinking or being part of that in the fall … were very sad. I really appreciate that this was put on for us to have a moment to celebrate life and hope and to celebrate the future.”

Freshman Loic Vaugirard is a member of Speech Choir who was deeply touched by Maumau during his time on campus. As the first person Vaugirard met at Baker, Maumau was a symbol of kindness and joy in his life.

“I was happy about the event,” Vaugirard said. “It was something he deserved. I was willing to help, but I couldn’t because the thoughts were too emotional.”

The moment the event ended was bittersweet for Vaugirard as the memories came flooding back and closure set in. For him, saying goodbye was the hardest part.

“The part that was the hardest for me was when I was leaving the event, because I felt like it was goodbye and goodbyes are never easy,” Vaugirard said.

Senior Alexia Nyoni, a member of Speech Choir and former friend of Maumau’s, was thankful for the opportunity to experience a new sense of closure and hope for the future.

“We’d been working on the event the whole semester,” Nyoni said. “I’m happy to have something symbolic on campus that every time I pass by on my way to class I can remember him and the effect he had on my life.”

For Nyoni the event that touched her the most was the moment of putting the dirt on the tree.

“It was a moment of closure and a moment of Baker Strong,” Nyoni said. “You could tell Baker was a community and would come together when things impacted the university. Such events bring us together and in the end of it, we can all come together and share that love.”