There’s a boy up in Michigan named Gavin who’s really worried about the Toomer’s Oaks. How will the Auburn Family celebrate now? Can they find other trees?
These are the questions Gavin asked in his letter, one of several sent to Auburn University in March by students in Karen Miller’s second grade class at Starr Elementary in Plainwell, Mich. and currently on display at Auburn’s Ralph Brown Draughon Library as part of a special collection of Toomer’s corner mementos housed in Auburn University Special Collection and Archives.
“One of the girls asked to write a letter about how upset she was about the trees and then all of them decided to write letters,” Miller says. “It was the kids’ idea. They took it and ran with it.”
Miller has been teaching her class about all things Auburn since the beginning of the year. Her daughter Caitlin is a senior in nursing at Auburn.
“So we’ve really been tuned into Auburn lately,” Miller says. “My classroom decided we’d follow the Auburn football team this year.”
When they learned that Auburn was playing for the national championship, Miller says her students were pumped.
“We were really excited. We dressed in all orange and blue [the day of the BCS National Championship Game]. All my teaching peers looked at me like I was a crazy woman,” Miller laughs. “But I had one little boy in my class who decided he was an Oregon fan.”
“His family is really into sports,” Miller says. “He studied the players and studied the stats.”
And he decided Oregon was the better team.
“He walked in on the day of the game in a homemade Oregon shirt.”
When the Ducks lost to Auburn, Miller says Gavin was upset. But not nearly as upset as he was a month later.
“When the thing happened to the trees at Toomer’s Corner, he came in all upset and disgusted and just indignant, that someone would do that,” Miller says. “He was furious about the situation because he understands and has respect for people’s traditions, so we talked about what happened together as a class.”
Miller’s second graders began monitoring the Toomer’s Oaks condition via the Toomer’s Corner webcam once a week, sometimes more. They made their own Toomer’s Oaks out of construction paper.
“We were even going to roll a tree outside our classroom but a snow storm came through,” Miller says. “So we took some branches and made a Toomer’s in the hallway and rolled that.”
And they wrote the letters.
“We actually initially sent them to the university president and he passed them on to the people taking care of the display,” Miller says. “We were kind of hoping to get some response from the university, maybe a little thank you note.”
And they got one, along with a felt national championship banner—”it’s hanging next to our Auburn flag”— and a batch of national championship posters.
“The kids were so excited,” Miller says. “It really kind of touched them. It’s just been an amazing season and it (the poisoning of the oaks) has been an opportunity to touch on a lot of life lessons for them, as far caring about and respecting other people.”
Of course, one of her students seems to have had that lesson down pat for a while.
“Dear Auburn Family, hopefully the trees will get better,” Gavin the Oregon fan wrote. “Because what if Auburn wins the national title again?”
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