In the middle of Northern State University’s campus green, just west of the central sidewalk, a small but beautiful tree is adorned with ribbons. I wish I could say that there aren’t many ribbons on the tree, or, at least, that there was no need for ribbons to be placed on the tree. This is Northern’s Cancer Awareness Tree, and, sadly, there is a great need for it. The ribbons, in a variety of colors, represent lives that have been forever changed by cancer. Each individual ribbon represents not just cancer’s victim, but the many, many lives that the diagnosis has touched. The Cancer Awareness Tree was put in place in 2014 as part of Northern student Teresa Edelman’s (2014 graduate) Honors Thesis project. As per the requirements of the Honors Program, each student is to complete a thesis, which can be either a paper, project, or a combination of both. Writing a paper detailing the process of establishing the Cancer Awareness Tree was part of Edelman’s thesis. She was responsible for contacting companies for the tree itself and the landscaping materials; she also had to coordinate laborers to come to campus and create the ribbon shaped design around the tree. Additionally, Edelman, coordinated with campus officials in order to get permission for the design and location of the memorial. Each year since the tree’s installation, members of the Northern and Aberdeen community have been writing inspirational messages or names on the ribbons and then tying them to the branches of the tree in honor and celebration of their loved ones affected by cancer.
The Cancer Awareness Tree serves as a beautiful memorial, and it speaks for us when we cannot find the words. The tree has provided, for many, a small bit of healing. It allows for some sort of action when any other action seems to be impossible. The tree also provides a sense of community for those who have been touched by cancer in some way. Simply a glance at the ribbons adorning the tree shows you that you are not alone in the fight against cancer. However, in order to keep the tree healthy, the ribbons must be cut off its branches every year, but the ribbons collected from each year’s removal are placed in storage. This year, it has been arranged for students and faculty to be able to cut the ribbons themselves. Although the date and time have not officially been set, the event is planned to take place in the last week of April, and it will become a new tradition on Northern’s campus. As of now, the hope is to tie each year’s ribbons together and use them as further decoration and remembrance on the tree as a ribbon chain. In celebration and in honor of those who have been diagnosed, all students, faculty, staff, and members of the Aberdeen community are invited to partake in the activities involving the Cancer Awareness Tree. If you have any questions or suggestions as to additional colors to add to the ribbon supply, feel free to contact Honors Club Secretary, Zoe Buckstead at firstname.lastname@example.org.