You may have noticed, upon returning from spring break, that you can see all the way from Upham Hall to King Library now, without any leafy obstruction in your way.
This is partially because of winter — the trees are sort of bare-bones right now anyway — and partially because, over spring break, the Friendship Tree finally met its maker, presumably in the form of a chainsaw or some other sharp object wielded by Miami University Physical Facilities.
For those of you who never knew the Friendship Tree, that was the official name for that big tree growing out of the sidewalk on the west side of Academic Quad, between Stoddard Hall and Elliott Hall.
Legend — and Miami’s official traditions page — stated that if you were walking by the Friendship Tree with a group of friends and you “split” the tree, or went around different sides of it, so too would the friendship. Technically, this applies to any tree, but the Friendship Tree on Academic Quad was the main one.
It was a lot like the seal, really. (Ever noticed that Miami has a lot of “don’t” traditions? Don’t step on the seal, don’t split the trees, don’t mess with Helen Peabody… okay, maybe it’s just those three.)
The tradition — or, as I’ve said on every Miami tour I’ve given since I started working as a tour guide in October of 2019, the tree-dition — of the Friendship Tree might not have been well-known among every student on campus, but it was actually something that drew me to become a RedHawk in the first place.
On my high school color guard team, we had a similar tradition. “Don’t split the pole,” our seniors would warn our freshmen every year. If we were walking together and came across a telephone pole or anything else sprouting from the ground, everyone had to go around the same side for good luck at our upcoming competitions.
“Don’t split the pole” became so ingrained in me as a high school student that I would make my parents go around the same sides of things as me when walking together. It was good luck, after all, and who doesn’t like a bit of good luck?
So, then, when I started seriously thinking about attending Miami in February of my senior year, my mom pulled up the traditions page on the Miami website.
“Look, they don’t split trees,” she told me, pointing out the tree blurb on the webpage. “Just like you.”
While it wasn’t the final cherry on top of my decision to come to MU, that little blurb — the idea of something from home, 1,000 miles away — certainly helped me realize Oxford was the place for me.
That’s just my story. When my fellow lovers of the Friendship Tree — mostly other tour guides or my fellow members of the Miami University Student Foundation (MUSF) — learned of the Tree’s passing, our group chats were flooded with mourning, our meetings full of stories about how much we loved this Miami tradition.
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When I posted on my Snapchat story about the tree’s death, multiple of my alumni friends swiped up to express shock, horror and grief. Even for those who are no longer on campus, the Friendship Tree was a staple of Miami life — an institution that seemed untouchable.
Unbeknownst to me, the “untouchable institution” had allegedly been sick for years — it was apparently very old and already dying. But I left for spring break with the Friendship Tree standing, and I came back to it completely gone, the only remembrance of a long-held Miami tradition a patch of dirt in the sidewalk; the fact that it was supposedly already on its way out doesn’t make that any easier.
In past, pre-COVID years, MUSF held a festival centered around the Friendship Tree, called TreeFest. As recently as 2019, MAP’s beloved SpringFest was held in Academic Quad (instead of last year’s Central Quad), and the Friendship Tree was a big part of that. Countless selfies of students walking to class, pretending to step on the seal or kissing underneath Upham Arch have featured the Friendship Tree in the background — not often the star of the show, but always there.
Now, where its magnificent trunk used to stand proudly in Academic Quad to represent the lifelong friendships that members of the student body have made at Miami, there is only a sad patch of dirt.
I have to avoid the dirt every time I go by.
I don’t know what Miami’s Facilities department is going to do with the tradition of the Friendship Tree. Maybe they’ll plant another one or maybe the tradition will die out — whatever they’re going to do, it is certainly out of my control.
But it is fully in my control to mourn the Friendship Tree, my favorite Miami tree-dition and something I will certainly miss for the rest of my time as a RedHawk.
RIP to the Friendship Tree.