At a recent North Arkansas College Board of Trustees meeting, college president Dr. Randy Esters told board members a new tradition would soon begin with the planting of a tree.

Thousands of students pass through the doors at North Arkansas College to get their educational credentials, receive workforce training or just take a class for fun. Sadly, there are a few students whose lives end too soon.

That’s just what happened to Tanzanian student Allen Buberwa, who drowned while swimming with friends in the Buffalo River in May. Buberwa was well-known on campus and was studying to become a nurse.

Northark held a vigil and sent cards and gifts to Allen’s family in Africa.

But Esters wanted to do more to remember Buberwa and other students who pass while at Northark. Staring at a barren and empty outdoor space on campus near his office, an idea grew.

That idea bloomed into reality at the June meeting where Esters announced a new Memorial Tree program that will start a new Northark tradition. When a student is lost, a tree will be planted on campus to commemorate their life.

A commemorative plaque will rest under the tree. Each plaque will be the shape of the student’s home state or country and bear their name.

Community members and Northark trustees, students, Northark faculty and staff, as well as the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce, turned out to commemorate the first tree planted on campus.

“This is a new tradition,” Esters said. “We’re a small college and our roots run deep. The Memorial Tree program will be an enduring, living remembrance to lost students that will be visible and contribute to the environment far into the future.”

He wanted the plaque to be shaped like Africa. Micki Somers created the design, John Levy cut the plaque on the plasma cutter on the North Campus and Kevin Somers and team landscaped the location.

The plaque hangs under a Japanese maple planted at the south entrance of the college.

“The tree is named the Allen Buberwa tree and was planted by members of the Northark family in memory of Allen Buberwa,” a press release said.

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