This week, I planted a live oak on the lawn of the Reitz Union, near the Field and Fork Pantry. The planting ceremony was with Louise Fresco, president of Wageningen University, in celebration of the collaboration between our universities and in honor of Wageningen’s centennial anniversary. Wageningen, based in the Netherlands, is the world’s #1-ranked university focusing on agriculture.
Today is Florida Arbor Day. I am reminded how blessed UF is to be filled with incredible trees. Some of those trees are the result of ceremonial plantings, such as the live oaks on the Plaza of the Americas, planted as seedlings in 1931 at the dedication for the Center for Latin American Studies. We have a gorgeous large sycamore, affectionately named the “moon tree” because it was grown from a seedling carried to the moon and back in 1971 aboard Apollo 14. We even have an Ogeechee lime tree that was supposedly planted by Tom Petty when he worked on the UF grounds crew.
I have participated in several ceremonial plantings of trees in celebration of something in the past, e.g., the dedication of a program or the founding of a university. However, planting trees is primarily not about the past. The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, said “Arbor Day … is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.”
On Monday, Bina Venkataraman gave a talk in the Phillips Center based on her new book “The Optimist’s Telescope – Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age.” She encouraged us in the audience to look beyond the near-term and instead focus on the future we want to influence.
At UF we are engaged in what author Simon Sinek describes in his new book as “The Infinite Game.” Although the university has specific measurable near-term goals, such as a top-five ranking, an infinite mindset is required when we think of the future of the university. For example, as president, even though there are daily and often hourly urgent deadlines, I must continually ask myself how will my actions affect UF centuries from now?
As Sinek points out, having an infinite mindset means we are living our lives for something bigger than ourselves. We are living for a cause and living a life filled with service. I trust that this week’s tree planting will be a symbol of how we all live our lives, filled with service and for an infinite cause.