For centuries the oak tree has carried a special significance in mythology and legend the world over. Oaks are referred to as noble, mighty and even sacred. To family and friends of Auburn University, the iconic oaks at Toomer's Corner are that and more. Simply put, they are special. Since the 1930s this pair of live oaks has provided a grand entrance to campus at the precise spot where town and gown meet. Generations of alumni, students and other Auburn faithful have gathered beneath their shade-giving branches, not just to celebrate big football wins, but to revel in the spirit that is uniquely Auburn University. As we prepare to come together at the "Celebrate the Tradition" Final Rolling of the Auburn Oaks, we've asked a few well-known members of the Auburn Family and others to share their thoughts on the trees, the tradition and the Auburn spirit.
Jay Gogue, Auburn University President
The Auburn Oaks helped create special memories through the years for many members of the Auburn family. The tradition will only grow once the new oaks are in place and improvements are made to Samford Park at Toomer's Corner.
David Housel, Director of Athletics Emeritus
As revered as the trees at Toomer's Corner are, there's more to Auburn and the Auburn Spirit than two oak trees. Frankly, it's good that this—the inevitable, perhaps—is about to be behind us. Now we can move on to the future. All things human change and so it is, and should be, with Toomer's Corner and the Auburn Oaks.
Rolling the trees is, in reality, a rather new thing. Until the late '70s or early '80s, maybe the mid-80s, the utility lines crossing Toomer's Corner were rolled and the trees were left alone, virtually untouched. When the city moved the utility wires underground—and there was a hue and cry about that, too—the trees became the focus of the rolling. A little change, perhaps, but a change nonetheless. Now it's time for another change, a moving forward if you will, to our future and to Auburn's future.
Trees may—trees will—come and go, but the Auburn Spirit, the thing that makes Auburn special, will remain. It will remain for as long as there is this place called Auburn.
Bo Jackson, 1985 Heisman Trophy winner and voted ESPN's 'Greatest Athlete of All Time'
The Oaks are probably some of the most notable landmarks in Auburn. They have been a place of celebration, and just because they are gone it does not mean that we won't be on that corner celebrating.
Cam Newton, 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and current Carolina Panthers quarterback
I just remember all the times I saw the trees flooded with toilet paper. It is the equivalent of people's joy, and it means so much to the players to see the passion and support from our fans. You see people having fun with smiles on their faces at the corner, and I'm hopeful the tradition will continue to be as strong as ever. It's the ultimate celebration!
Gary Keever, Professor of Horticulture and member of the Auburn Oaks Task Force
My personal reflections about removing the Auburn Oaks and the rolling tradition are intimately intertwined with my self-professed admission of being a tree-hugger. (Any horticulturist worth his/her salt would state the same.) Yes, I am saddened that our efforts to save the trees have failed, but it has not been for lack of effort.
During my two-plus years of working with a highly capable task force of scientists from Auburn's ranks, I was continually impressed by their knowledge, focus and commitment to saving the trees, in spite of Spike 80DF's proven record as a tree killer and the supra-optimal dose applied—up to 500 times the lethal dose for live oak. In working with the task force and the Office of Communications and Marketing and interacting with students, alums and just Auburn fans, I was continually reminded of what the Auburn Spirit is—this love and respect for all things Auburn—and humbled by the opportunity to be a part of it.
Perhaps most telling were the dozens of shared personal stories recounting how the trees have played a significant role in people's lives. The Auburn Oaks have embodied a tradition dear to the hearts of the Auburn Family, but it will continue and make us stronger even if the rolling tradition will have a new "old" venue for several years. As a horticulturist, I think that the loss of the Auburn Oaks has heightened our awareness of all that trees add to our well-being and instilled in many the desire to preserve and protect this valuable resource, while continuing a tradition for many years to come.
Martin Khodabakhshian, Director of the ESPN documentary Roll Tide/War Eagle
Every school likes to have tradition, something they can call all their own. A mascot, a celebration or landmark they can call and identify as all their own. For Auburn, it is, was and always will be the Auburn Oaks—a gateway to the campus, a spot where all the students, faculty and community can come together and celebrate everything and anything Auburn, and beyond. It went on for the years, decades, and then in a cosmic flash, more than a century went by. Now, seemingly faster than the quickest Cam Newton scramble to the end zone or Bo Jackson bomb, the Auburn Oaks are gone, all because of one heinous act. Though the trees are gone, everything the trees represent is not, and never will be.
I spent four weeks in Alabama, after never being there in my 38-year-old life. But what I learned was that although the trees represent a culture, a symbol and a tradition, they do not define the people of Auburn, nor are they "just trees." They matter. They are the roots of things the university represents, but just because they are dead and soon gone, that doesn't mean the spirit of the Tigers go with them. Instead, they live on. And THAT is the spirit of Auburn. It's not a tree. Or trees. It's what they trees represent. So mourn for them—be upset. Heck, be angry that "rolling Toomer's Corner" won't ever be the same. But like the trees, find new roots to dig into. Find a new light to reach toward, and know that your school was more than about some trees that grew, lasted a long time and became a tradition or rolled with toilet paper. You are Auburn. You will overcome.