By Natalie Roadarmel
If you were to ask any student on campus, it is a given that they would be able to explain what the Star Trees are and where they are planted. The Star Trees have a commanding and important presence on campus, representing the history of the University as well as all that is to come. Although the Star Trees are mainly known for their urban legend and as a peaceful escape from campus bustle, they have also played an important role in holiday celebrations at Willamette for many years.
The Star Trees were originally planted in 1942 north of Collins Science Hall, coinciding with the Willamette centennial, or the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the University. They were planted by President Knopf to celebrate the centennial and to begin a “Temple of the Centuries.” They are now said to be the largest trees planted on any U.S. college or university campus.
The first lighting of the Star Trees occurred in 1997 and began the yearly holiday tradition on Willamette’s campus. However, in 2014 the trees started to show signs of stress, and it was decided that the lighting of them would have to be put on hold in order to ensure that the heavy cables used to light the trees would not cause damage to them during winter storms. During this three year hiatus, the annual lighting ceremony took place in Jackson plaza with lights strung along the millstream, lamp posts and surrounding trees.
Luckily, this year the Star Trees were assessed to once again be in well enough health to hold the annual tree lighting. Students and members from the Salem community gathered together on Saturday to view the spectacle. The event began with Chaplain Karen Wood explaining to the crowd the story of the Star Trees, followed by musical performances by the Holiday Choir directed by Wallace Long, and a brass fanfare to being the countdown for the lighting. Cookies, hot chocolate and s’mores were provided for attendees, and bubbles and fake snow filled the air. Coat and clothing donations were also collected to be donated to the Union Gospel Mission. The whole event gave off an air of holiday cheer, and felt like a real coming-together of Willamette students, faculty and Salem community members.
The event was followed by a band concert in Smith Auditorium, with performances by the University Wind Ensemble, University Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Collective. The groups all played holiday tunes and ended in a final piece arranged by Peter Lawson for the three groups to play together as one.
The Star Tree lighting was a wonderful way to begin the holiday season at Willamette. This event brought many people together and gave students a well deserved break before finals start. A multitude of families from Salem attended the Star Tree lighting as well as the following concert, showing their support for Willamette and its student groups. The re-lighting of the Star Trees was a highlight event of the year and one that will not easily be forgotten by students and community members alike.