Category Archives: Spring/Summer 2018

One Duke Nation, Indivisible

An immigrant’s path to Duke and how it changed his life

By Aaron Welborn, Director of Communications

Emmanuel Senga at work in the Library Service Center, 2018.

Even if you spent all your time at Duke in the library, you would probably never meet Emmanuel Senga. And even if you did, it would probably make no difference to you whether he was a Hutu or a Tutsi.

But twenty-four years ago, when the killings started, that was the one thing about Emmanuel—and every other Rwandan like him—that made the difference between life and death.

Emmanuel works in Duke’s Library Service Center, the high-density repository five miles from campus that houses 5.5 million books, documents, and archival materials belonging to Duke and other Triangle area institutions. When a student or faculty member requests a book held off-site at the LSC, chances are it will pass through Emmanuel’s hands.

He has worked there since 2012, the year before he officially became an American citizen. Emmanuel and his family came to the U.S. as refugees and survivors of one of the worst genocides in modern history. Considering how many times he has narrowly escaped death, it seems remarkable he is here at all, safe and sound, scanning books, retrieving books, and putting them back where they belong.

His story is a powerful reminder that ours is a nation of immigrants, however the political winds may blow, and that many of the people who keep a globally minded university like Duke running come from all over the globe themselves.

Although he likes working at Duke, this wasn’t the life Emmanuel pictured for himself. “One of the most frustrating parts about moving to a country where you don’t speak the language is having to start over at the bottom,” he said. Hard-earned degrees and credentials from one country don’t necessarily count for anything in another.

Emmanuel and Jeanne on their wedding day, July 27, 1988. (All family photos courtesy of Emmanuel Senga.)

He was trained as a teacher of languages at the National University of Rwanda. For ten years, he taught French, Linguistics, and Kinyarwanda at the Minor Seminary of Ndera-Kigali, helping to prepare young men who felt called to the priesthood. Seminaries were the top private schools in the country, and their teachers were selected accordingly. For many Roman Catholic Hutus like Emmanuel, an appointment to the faculty of a seminary was a good and secure job.

His wife, Jeanne, was a nurse. A Tutsi, she was born in Rwanda but raised in neighboring Tanzania. Like thousands of other Tutsis, she was the child of refugees who had fled Rwanda in an earlier revolution that saw the abolition of a monarchy dominated by the Tutsi minority elite and the establishment of a republic ruled by the country’s Hutu majority.

They were married in 1987. The mixed marriage caused some family friction, but ethnic differences can’t stop people from loving each other. In 1989, Emmanuel and Jeanne welcomed a son, Didier. Three years later came a daughter, Anaise. A young family in the prime of life, residing in a vibrant capital city—life could be worse.

And then suddenly, it was.

Emmanuel still remembers the day, April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Kigali. The resulting crash killed everyone onboard. Emmanuel was watching soccer on TV at the seminary when he heard the explosion. It was soon followed by the sound of gunshots. “We have to hide,” a colleague said to him.

Over the next several months, the entire country was swept up in a wave of anarchy and mass killings, in which the army and Hutu militia groups known as the interahamwe played a central role. Radio broadcasts fanned the flames by encouraging Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbors. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) responded in kind. As Hutus sought to exterminate Tutsis, the RPF killed Hutus in a bid to reclaim control of the country. Meanwhile, the international community stood by and watched.

For ethnically mixed Hutu-Tutsi families, like Emmanuel and Jeanne, their only hope was to go into hiding.

The Rwandan genocide is said to have lasted approximately one hundred days, from April 6 to mid-July 1994. During that time, an estimated 800,000 civilians were killed, mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus. The exact death toll may never be known. Many of the victims died in extremely brutal ways, often at the hands of people they knew.

Emmanuel with son Didier (left) and daughter Anaise (right), 1996.

It is impossible to convey, in this brief space, what Emmanuel, Jeanne, and their children went through during that nightmarish time period. But here, in extremely abbreviated form, are a few things that happened to them, starting in the month of April.

After the president’s plane was shot down, they took refuge in the seminary where Emmanuel worked. From the surrounding area people started pouring in, seeking a place of safety. But nowhere was truly safe.

Within a few days the militias appeared and started separating Hutus from Tutsis. (In Rwanda, your ethnicity is not something you could easily hide. Everyone’s government-issued ID proclaimed it. And anyway, it was a small world. People knew each other and could be made to talk.)

One brave soul spoke up on Emmanuel’s behalf and persuaded the militias to let his family leave. But their home had been destroyed, so they hid in the house of a wealthy friend near the seminary.

In addition to their own two children, aged five and two, Emmanuel and Jeanne took in the ten-year-old daughter of a colleague when the rest of her family were killed.

Within days, the militias found out where they were hiding and demanded payment in exchange for not killing Jeanne. Emmanuel complied, but then the militias came back, wanting more money. Then they came back again.

Emmanuel and Jeanne decided she should flee and try to find a safer place to hide, bypassing the roadblocks where Tutsis were being killed on the spot. He stayed behind with the children, the youngest of whom, Anaise, was still breastfeeding.

Weeks went by with no word from his wife. On April 26, an acquaintance gave Emmanuel some bad news. Jeanne hadn’t made it. She was dead.

That was the month of April.

In May, Emmanuel decided to leave Kigali. A nephew in the military helped him and the three children get a ride to the town of Gitarama. A trip that normally takes one hour stretched into six, as they crept through roadblock after terrifying roadblock.

In Gitarama, no one wanted to take them in. Emmanuel and the children were obliged to live in primitive conditions, with no electricity, no running water, no money, and entirely dependent on the charity of others.

That was the month of May, and also the month of June.

A view of present-day Kigali.

In July, the Tutsi-led RPF arrived at Gitarama. They began killing Hutus and their relatives, as well as anyone who sheltered them.

Eventually they found Emmanuel, who was certain his time was up. But then a strange thing happened. When he told the soldiers who came for him that his wife was dead, one of them took pity on him. Turns out he was also from Tanzania, like Jeanne.

The Tanzanian took Emmanuel aside and told him they were going to concoct a story about Jeanne being his long-lost sister. When the other men heard the story, they believed it and stood down. Then they all drank beers together, Emmanuel and his would-be killers.

Before they left, the Tanzanian gave Emmanuel a note in Swahili, stating that he was Emmanuel’s brother-in-law and promising him safe passage. To this day, Emmanuel isn’t sure why the man did this. He thinks it has something to do with Tanzanians’ deep sense of national pride and family-like fellow feeling for their countrymen.

On July 4, the RPF seized Kigali and established military control over much of the rest of the country. Millions of Hutus fled to Congo and other neighboring countries.

By mid-July, a transitional government was sworn in. Three months after it had started, the genocide had come to an end.

Desperate for money and work, and knowing there would be a need for educated men and women in the new administration in Kigali, Emmanuel made his way there and began making inquiries.

Over the course of a few days, two separate sources told him that Jeanne was actually alive. She had made it to the north of the country, where she had waited out the violence in an RPF orphanage, caring for Tutsi orphans of the genocide.

Around the same time, word reached Jeanne that Emmanuel and the children were still alive in Gitarama. Immediately she set out to find them.

That was the month of July.

On August 4, 1994, Emmanuel, Jeanne, and their family were finally reunited, though their country remained profoundly torn apart.

The years following the genocide were not easy, but a degree of normalcy returned. Jeanne went back to work as a nurse for an ambulance service. Thanks to some contacts from his time at the seminary, Emmanuel got a job as the director of a Catholic relief agency.

Emmanuel (standing at right) at a workshop and distribution with Caritas Catholic Relief Agency in Gisenyi, 1996, two years after the genocide.

In 1998, Emmanuel was approached by a military officer who told him that the government needed educated men like himself. So many had been killed or fled the country during the violence. “It was not a suggestion,” said Emmanuel, but a warning to do his patriotic duty.

Later that year Emmanuel found himself appointed to a surprisingly high-level government post: Director of Protocol for the Rwandan Parliament. Suddenly, this former language instructor was in charge of planning, directing, and supervising a wide range of official government ceremonies and events, as well as serving as a diplomatic liaison with representatives of other states and countries. “It was a very important, always-in-the-spotlight kind of job,” Emmanuel said.

Having experienced so recently what it means to be powerless, Emmanuel unexpectedly found himself at the center of official power. But it was a center that could not hold. The events of 1994 weighed heavily on the country, which was becoming a de facto one-party state. (Since he was elected President of Rwanda in 2000, Paul Kagame has clung to power and overseen changes to the constitution that could allow him to remain in office until 2034.) Power struggles and ethnic strife always loomed, undermining real progress. “I started to witness more persecutions, killings, retributions,” Emmanuel said. The spotlight was a perilous place to be.

But it was ultimately his position as a government insider that helped Emmanuel and his family get out.

Their chance arrived in July 2004. Jeanne was invited on a whirlwind tour of the United States as part of an official program for African women who were considered opinion leaders in their fields. The six women selected were expected to bring back what they learned to their home countries. But before she left, Jeanne and Emmanuel secretly agreed: she would not be returning to Rwanda.

Emmanuel (far right) hosting visiting British parliamentarians at the Bugesera Genocide Memorial, in his official capacity as Director of Protocol for the Rwandan Parliament, 2002.

At the end of the five-state tour, Jeanne declared asylum at the U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C., and petitioned to have Emmanuel and the children join her.

Because of his high position in the Rwandan government, Emmanuel was a familiar face to foreign diplomats and their embassies around Kigali. It would not be seen as strange for him to spend an hour or two at the American embassy, under the pretense of some official business. Meanwhile he was secretly making his way through the official channels of the asylum process.

Getting out of the country was another matter altogether. “I couldn’t fly out of the airport in Kigali,” Emmanuel said. “Everyone knew me there, and I would be arrested.” He and the children would have to make it to Uganda and get a flight from there.

In the end, he was arrested—twice. First at the Ugandan border, where he was detained in a military camp, interrogated, and stripped of his passport to prevent him from leaving the country. Eventually released, he crossed the border illegally, made his way to Entebbe, and caught a flight out—only to be arrested again by Ethiopian authorities during a layover in Addis Ababa. “I was trembling, but God is always around me,” said Emmanuel. During a moment of commotion when the airport guards were distracted, Emmanuel and his son and daughter rushed onto their plane just moments before it took off.

They arrived in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 2005.

Fast-forward to today. The Sengas have been living in the U.S. for almost thirteen years. Jeanne is a Certified Nurse Assistant at the VA Hospital in Durham. Didier, now twenty-nine years old, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and is now a graduate student at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. Anaise, now twenty-six, attended East Carolina University briefly and now holds down multiple jobs. As for the ten-year-old girl Emmanuel and Jeanne rescued in 1994, she is now thirty-four, married with two children of her own, and residing in Canada.

Graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2010.

For a long time, Emmanuel had hoped to return to teaching. In 2010 he completed a master’s degree in Francophone studies from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Great Recession intervened. It was a hard time to find teaching jobs, even if you were a natural-born citizen and a native English-speaker. He was neither.

Still, unexpected opportunities presented themselves. He got to know Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press, whose children attended the same high school as Emmanuel’s. Steve arranged a part-time job for him at the press, doing whatever odd jobs needed to be done. It wasn’t a permanent position, but it was a start.

In 2012, Emmanuel applied and was hired as a full-time Library Assistant in the Library Service Center. As he says in his own words, “I am settled. I have a mortgage, I can feed my family, and I am not far from retirement. I am what I am now because of Duke.”

“Emmanuel came highly recommended from Duke Press,” said Marvin Tillman, the Head of the LSC and Emmanuel’s supervisor. “During the interview, he had a smile that lit up the room. I instantly felt like this is the kind of person I want working in our department. Since his hiring, he has been like family to everyone here. We’ve learned a lot about his culture, and he has learned a lot about ours. After learning about the things he and his family endured in Rwanda, I am amazed at how he is so happy and always smiling. Emmanuel is a hard and dependable worker, a loving family man, and most of all a friend to everyone he meets. We are fortunate to have him.”

Although he can never return to Rwanda, Emmanuel remains deeply involved in the affairs of his home country. For the past four years, he has edited and produced an online magazine and a weekly radio show dedicated to Rwandan politics. Every Sunday night, he hosts conversations with experts and commentators on Rwandan affairs. The show has thousands of regular listeners who call in, including many back home in Rwanda and fellow expatriates like Emmanuel scattered around the globe. He is proud of the show, which offers a counterpoint to official Rwandan news coverage and has had an effect on national conversations back home.

Emmanuel today with his supervisor, Marvin Tillman (right), at the Library Service Center.

Asked if he ever has mixed feelings about living in America, a country that refused to intervene during the Rwandan genocide while it was happening, Emmanuel is demure. “My time in the national parliament helped me understand that governments don’t have friends, they have interests,” he said. “That had nothing to do with the American people, but with the interests of the American government at the time.”

He has much the same outlook on the present state of American politics and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that often dominates the news. “When I see families being separated, as a father I understand what that’s like,” he said. “They came here like me, seeking a better life. I am an American, but I also remain a Rwandan. It’s complicated.”

Emmanuel at his U.S. citizenship ceremony in Durham, 2013.

Every year, Duke hosts thousands of foreign nationals who come here to work, teach, or do research. Like other institutions across the country, Duke has recently and publicly reaffirmed its commitment to the open exchange of students, scholars, and ideas from all over the world. That commitment lies at the heart of the twenty-first century research university.

And while the university doesn’t keep track of the number of employees who were born in other countries but now permanently reside in the U.S., ask any Duke employee and most will know at least one co-worker like Emmanuel who is an immigrant. With some 37,000 faculty, staff, and medical practitioners, Duke’s workforce is almost as diverse as its student body, drawn from nations and cultures around the world.

From a human resources perspective, that diversity is inarguably a strength. It’s also a source of endless learning opportunities in itself. A Duke education is the collective work of many instructive individuals, though you may only ever get to meet a few of them.

Greetings from the Library!

Early mornings in the Gothic Reading Room, late-night coffee runs to von Der Heyden, maybe even a few minutes of shut-eye somewhere on the fourth floor of Bostock between class—there’s no denying that Duke students treat the Libraries like a second home.

This year for National Library Week (April 8-14), we wanted to celebrate our students’ daily devotion to our spaces by inviting them to send a postcard to friends and family from their “home away from home,” since they pretty much live here.

Throughout the week, we set up our own personal post office outside Perkins and Lilly libraries, stocked with all the necessities for correspondence: vintage-style postcards; an assortment of fountain pens and other old-fashioned writing implements; and, most important of all, free domestic and international stamps! We even had our own mailbox and sent the letters out the very next day.

Our Dukies couldn’t resist. Crowding around our station between classes, they wrote and mailed a total of 536 postcards, sending their library love across the world to thirty-seven different states and twenty-seven foreign countries.

Inspired by the old-school designs of the cards, and with a nod to our students’ more modern forms of communication, we also produced four geo-specific Snapchat filters for Perkins, Lilly, Bostock, and Rubenstein libraries. Over the course of the week, these were used almost 2,000 times—getting over 22,000 total views.

National Library Week is sponsored by the National Library Association and has been observed by libraries around the world since 1958. This year, we turned it into a week of fun and sentiment for the Libraries’ “residents,” as well as the families and friends on the receiving end of their handwritten greetings. Do the Libraries still feel like a second home to you? Show your appreciation by sending us a little fan mail!

Students on East and West Campus celebrate National Library Week by sending postcards to friends and family from their “home away from home” at Duke—the library.

A Valedictory Address of Our Own

A longtime library mainstay steps down

By Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs

Farewells are never easy, even if they’re of the fond variety.

This May, a good friend and colleague of mine, Robert L. Byrd, Associate University Librarian for Collections and User Services, retired from Duke after forty years of dedicated service.

Bob announced his intention to retire last November. For many of us who have long relied on his wisdom, diplomacy, and ability to get things done, it has taken a while to get used to the idea that he won’t be here anymore.

An account of Bob’s contributions to the Duke University Libraries, and to the university, would go on for pages. Most notably, he has been the force of quiet persistence behind our special collections.

It was Bob’s vision, beginning decades ago, that ultimately led to the creation of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He always believed that Duke deserved a named special collections library, in recognition of our broad and deep research collections, engaging programs, and strong, effective services to scholars. That vision finally became a reality in 2015, when Duke formally dedicated the Rubenstein Library, bringing the university into the company of its peers.

It turns out that Bob’s fingerprints are on just about everything in the Rubenstein Library. He assiduously acquired and curated some of our most noteworthy and distinctive collections, always seeking to build strengths that reflected the interests of Duke faculty. For example, working with Roy Weintraub from the Department of Economics, he built the Economists’ Papers Archive. In collaboration with Mack O’Barr from Cultural Anthropology, he established the Hartman Center for Sales Advertising & Marketing History. With John Hope Franklin, he launched the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. With Sallie Bingham and Jean O’Barr, he established the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. He worked with Alex Harris to start the Archive of Documentary Arts. He founded the Human Rights Archive. And he worked for many years to build our southern historical archives, as well as the literary archives of southern writers like Reynolds Price, William Styron, and Anne Tyler.

The list could go on and on.

Bob has also contributed much beyond the Libraries, serving on numerous university committees, focusing, for example, on Duke’s reaccreditation process as well as the launch of Duke Kunshan University. He also worked closely with the architects of the Perkins Project, the fifteen-year-long effort that saw the renovation of Perkins and Rubenstein Libraries and the construction of Bostock Library and the von der Heyden Pavilion.

There is another side of Bob that anyone who gets to know him will discover. He is a deeply spiritual person who believes that a vibrant faith goes hand-in-hand with a rich and deep life of the mind. He was instrumental in founding two local educational institutions that, like Duke, combine Christian tradition and academic excellence: the Trinity School of Durham and Chapel Hill, and the Center for Christianity and Scholarship. In recognition of the years he has spent devoting his time, energies, and considerable gifts to bringing these twin passions—faith and education—together, Duke recently recognized Bob with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. The annual award recognizes one graduating senior and one Duke employee who exhibit the qualities of selflessness, generosity of service, nobility of character, integrity, and depth of spirituality. It is hard to think of a more worthy honoree.

Bob Byrd and the Libraries’ Executive Group at the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award ceremony.

Over the last few months, we have been searching for a way to salute Bob’s lasting impact on the Libraries and Duke in a unique and appropriate way. I’m happy to say that we found it.

It seems only appropriate that the position of Director of the Rubenstein Library should be named for Bob. Thanks to the generosity of many of our Library Advisory Board members and numerous other friends, this spring we created an endowment fund in his honor. Through the Robert L. Byrd Endowment, Bob and his legacy will be associated in perpetuity with the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. It is an acknowledgment of his vision and long dedication to this institution. You could also say it’s a way for us to keep him around—in spirit, if not in person—and continue to benefit from his company.

Be Part of the Recognition

If you would like to contribute to the Robert L. Byrd Endowment in honor of Bob’s lasting impact on the Libraries, please consider joining us. Gifts of any size are welcome, and pledges can be paid over five years. For more information, contact Tom Hadzor, Associate University Librarian for Development, at or 919-660-5940.

Fifty Years Later, A Silence That Still Echoes

Students camp out in the rain during the “Silent Vigil,” April 10, 1968. Images from Duke University Archives.

“I do not know if you realize the ultimate significance of what you’re doing. I haven’t seen anything like it. I’ve been involved in quite a few civil rights activities in my life, but I haven’t seen anything, anywhere, comparable to this. You would, of course, expect the victims of oppression to sacrifice, to take the hot sun, to take the rain, to sleep at night in the open and cold air, to expose their health, to do everything possible to remove the yoke of oppression and injustice. But you do not expect people born of privilege to undergo this harsh treatment. This is one of the things I think will help to redeem this country.”

– Samuel DuBois Cook, professor of political science and Duke’s first African American faculty member, addressing a crowd in front of Duke Chapel during the “Silent Vigil,” April 10, 1968

Samuel DuBois Cook had just returned from the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to find his campus—like much of the country—in mourning and embroiled in protest.

The day after King’s assassination, students sought to memorialize the civil rights leader by bringing about changes to Duke’s policies. More than 350 of them marched on the home of President Douglas M. Knight—who was then recovering from a bout of hepatitis—and presented him with a list of demands, chief among them being higher wages for the university’s predominantly African American non-academic employees.

WDBS recording at the “Silent Vigil.”

The students occupied Knight’s residence until the following morning, when they learned he had been isolated by his doctors. At that point the protestors moved to the West Campus quad, where they remained encamped in silent support of Duke’s employees, now on strike, for the next four days. Nearly 1,500 Duke students would participate in the massive demonstration, waiting in the rain in front of Duke Chapel until their demands were eventually met.

The “Silent Vigil” was one of the most defining—and best documented—moments in Duke’s history. The student-run radio station, WDBS, was on-scene through the entire event. They were an essential source of information for students, faculty, staff, and local community members as they broadcast round-the-clock interviews, speeches, press conferences, and behind-the-scenes strategy meetings that defined the campus-wide movement. The students who made up WDBS’s news staff knew they were documenting important historical events. It is thanks to their coverage that we know what Dr. Cook said that day. The station later donated copies of the broadcasts to the Duke Libraries.

Now, fifty years later, the Silent Vigil recordings have finally been digitized and are freely available on our website. Supplemented with line-by-line transcriptions, the broadcasts bring to life the events of that tumultuous spring in a way that no other kind of historical record can. There is singing and music throughout the recordings, as well as a sense of urgency in the speeches and community gatherings. The conflict and conviction are literally audible.

Samuel DuBois Cook, 1966

Dr. Cook’s address to the protestors, which took place on the final day of the Vigil, was one of its high points. Cook had come to Duke only two years earlier, becoming the first (and, at the time, only) African American to hold a regular faculty appointment at a predominantly white southern college or university. Though relatively new to campus, he was held in considerable esteem by the Duke community.

He had been a friend of King’s. They attended Morehouse College together, where Cook became student body president and founded the campus chapter of the NAACP. Later, as chair of Atlanta University’s political science department, he had moderated forums between civil rights leaders such as King and student activists.

At Duke, Cook’s influence among faculty and staff would eventually help move the university forward in its efforts at unity and progress, even after he left to become president of Dillard University in 1974. In 1981, he was named a member of the Duke Board of Trustees and later became a trustee emeritus. Numerous enterprises across campus have been established in his honor, including an endowed professorship, a postdoctoral fellowship, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, and the Samuel DuBois Cook Society, which celebrates the efforts of African American students, faculty, and staff at Duke.

Students, administrators, and trustees sing “We Shall Overcome” at the Silent Vigil, April 10, 1968.

So it is fitting that the digitization of the Silent Vigil recordings, including Cook’s memorable speech, coincides with another important addition to the historical record—Cook’s papers themselves. Before he passed away last year at the age of 88, Cook arranged to have them preserved at Duke. The papers document the storied career of a political scientist, scholar, educator, author, teacher, administrator, civil rights activist, and public servant who devoted more than sixty years of his life to higher education. This April, the first installment of papers made their final voyage from Cook’s home in Atlanta to the shelves of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where they will soon be processed and cataloged.

Whatever the next fifty years of racial progress look like in this country, they are sure to be informed by the sounds of the Silent Vigil and the life’s work of a beloved campus figure who never gave up the cause.

Solving the Mystery of Tree Number One

By Hannah Rozear, Librarian for Instructional Services

What do librarians do all day? While many imagine we spend our days squirreled away reading books, the truth is that we’re often chasing down obscure sources and helping people find the information they need—no matter how hard-to-find or esoteric. These questions may come in as instant messages, phone calls, emails, or in person at the service desk.

Occasionally, they involve tracking down trees.

Have you ever noticed the tiny numbered metal tags attached to seemingly random trees around Duke’s campus? Alexandra Gil (T‘05) and her friends were particularly intrigued by them. When they were students here, they made it their personal mission to locate the lowest numbered tree on campus. Sadly, the closest they ever came was Tree No. 3.

Fast-forward twelve years and a question lands in our general-purpose “Ask a Librarian” inbox, reviving anew the quest for Tree No. 1:

I’m writing to you in search of help… My wife (a proud alumna of the university) and I will be visiting the campus this weekend. It’ll be her first time back at Duke since her graduation, 12 years ago, and she will be reuniting with some of her alumni friends. One of the things they are excited to see again is “Tree #3”… We’ll be celebrating our 6-month anniversary this weekend, and I thought finding “Tree #1” would be a nice surprise.

Any chance you know where on campus the tree is?

— Itamar Ben Haim

Alexandra Gil and her friend Noel Bakhtian (T’05) celebrate finding Tree No. 1, at last.

Knowing nothing about the history of Duke’s trees or this tagging system, I found myself wondering (like Dr. Seuss’s Lorax), “Who speaks for the trees on Duke’s campus?” After some initial digging, I reached out to Bryan Hooks, Director of Landscape Services in Duke’s Facilities Management Department. Bryan was just the sort of expert who might help us solve the mystery of Tree No. 1. He quickly replied with a map revealing the location and also sent along information about the species, Platanus occidentalis, also known as the American sycamore.

So what’s with the tree tagging system? The tags are part of an inventory that helps landscaping staff monitor the overall health of trees on campus. They identify a sample of trees of different species in different stages of their life cycles. If problems are noted, then grounds crews can check other trees with similar characteristics to see if it’s a bigger issue.

Thanks to the map acquired by her thoughtful husband (with the help of a librarian and the Director of Landscaping Services), Alexandra and her friends were able to take a proud selfie in front of Tree No. 1. In case you’re wondering, it’s located off Science Drive, between Gross Hall and the Biological Sciences Building, just a few steps away from the enigmatic “camel statue” of legendary Duke biology professor Dr. Knut Schmidt-Nielsen. Mission accomplished!

Now where’s Tree No. 2?