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First Tree Planted to Honor 2020 Graduates

Adrian Huq never got the opportunity to hug their friends or say goodbye to their teachers upon graduating this past June. It took a few days for it to hit that they would never be returning to school after students were forced to make a hasty departure from the campus when the public health situation worsened in the Spring.

As Huq took classes from home, a willow tree bent over in their yard. Huq came up with an idea to honor the graduating class of 2020 with a gift that would grow for years to come: trees.

“Trees are really fitting for this because it will grow along with your graduate,” said Huq. “It’s nice to symbolize growth, change and healing, which I think are really important messages right now, especially now with the resilience of the class of 2020 and their families and their schools and their educators, it is especially fitting to have a sign of hope.”

They reached out to a coordinator at the Urban Resources Initiative, where they have been working since late January. Soon, the graduation trees became a reality: the Urban Resources Initiative (URI) and the Yale School of the Environment (YSE), a non-profit university partnership, are now planting free Graduation Trees to honor New Haven’s 2020 graduates. Anyone can ask for one by reaching out to the URI team.

Huq joined four members of the Urban Resource Initiative’s planting crew in the parking lot of their high school on Thursday morning to witness the planting of the first “Graduation Tree” in celebration of the Metropolitan Business Academy’s class of 2020.

Ten other local schools have signed up to receive one of these free trees so far — two colleges, five high schools, and four middle schools. Twelve families have requested trees to honor their graduates. More have expressed interest, and the crew will be planting the trees through the Fall season.

Thursday was the last day of the summer planting season. The three URI crew members, Tyrese Yates, Steve Outlaw and Jose Dishmey Jr. started digging a hole for the graduation tree well before 8am. Their thick jeans were already dusted with soil. Together, the trio heaved the young Hawthrone into a shallow crater. They released the roots from a tightly-bound burlap sack and loaded a heap of soil around the base of the tree.

“Trees don’t like to be planted too deep, or else their trunk wood will rot,” explained Caroline Scanlan, an arborist and the URI planting team manager. Dishmey Jr. demonstrated how he measured the ideal soil level by finding the “root flare”, the sweet spot where the tree trunk becomes the tree roots.

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