Under the Oaks – A long standing Elon tradition

Pam Richter – Class of 2011
Sept. 9, 2009

For Elon University seniors, the term “under the oaks” has a special meaning. This is the spot where they will make their way across the stage and will receive their diplomas. This is a long standing tradition at the university beginning in 1923 after the Old Main Administration Building burned down, as graduations were previously held in the auditorium of this building.

The first outdoor commencement at Elon in 1923.

The first outdoor commencement at Elon in 1923.

“This commencement promises to be the best of all Elon’s commencements, but the thing which makes it unique is the fact that it will mark the end of an old era and the beginning of a new in the history of the college.” This was written in the Maroon and Gold on May 18, 1923.

The graduation ceremony in 1924 marked the first time Whitley Auditorium was used. Over the next several years, graduations were held in different places on campus including, Whitley Auditorium and Alumni Gymnasium.

On May 23, 1987 the tradition of “under the oaks” started again and has continued ever since to be a long-standing tradition known at Elon today.

Senior Oak
Many students now know the term “under the oaks” as the location for graduation in May. But for some alumni, there is another meaning for a specific oak tree.

A drawing of the senior oak tree by Jean Simons.

A drawing of the senior oak tree by Jean Simons.

An oak tree (known as the senior oak) was one of the last surviving trees in the forest that was cleared in 1889 to make room for the first few buildings on campus.

In 1930, the name senior oak took full effect when seniors at Elon had the chance to take their class pictures under the tree which was defined by the large curve in its trunk.

The tree was eventually cut down in 1981 after being struck by lightning in 1980 and being impacted by disease. It was cut into 804 pieces that were auctioned off to alumni.

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