By Barry Bottino
AURORA, Ill. — In past years, the holidays at Aurora University’s School of Nursing were small scale.
“They had years where there were 10 nursing students, so they were buying individual gifts for students,” said Carmella Moran, RN, PhD, director of the school and an associate professor. “I was trying to think, ‘What could I do that would be inclusive, that everyone would appreciate,’ and also wanting to respect different cultures and religions.”
Moran found her inspiration at home four years ago.
While students were experiencing their most stressful time of the semester, Moran wanted to give them a reminder that she and the faculty and staff were thinking about them. The answer was a “holiday tree,” which is now set up in a busy hallway in Alumni Hall on campus. The tree is decorated the day before Thanksgiving break and welcomes students back to campus for the final few weeks of the semester.
The school’s 350 nursing students are drawn to the tree because it is stocked daily with dozens of candy canes that they are encouraged to grab as a special treat.
“It picks up our mood … and it’s a little sugar high,” senior Andrea Crabb said. The treats include the traditional peppermint canes and a few wild cards Moran places on the tree such as chocolate and various fruit flavors.
The tree — which came from Moran’s home — sits between her office and a busy simulation lab on the second floor. “We all have our mailboxes there (at the lab), so we have to go there every day,” senior Chase Buehler said.Megan Tully is among the dozens of Aurora students who passed by the tree between classes each day during the holiday season.
While the students are busy studying for final exams, Moran, a secretary and a student assistant diligently keep an eye on their candy cane supply. “Students tell me when the tree is running low,” Moran said with a laugh. “It’s a nice thing for them to enjoy. Students really look forward to it. They know when they come back from Thanksgiving break that the tree is going to be up, and every day (we) fill it with candy canes. Who doesn’t like candy canes?”
Moran’s pre-Thanksgiving shopping trips have reached record proportions. In years past, students would go through a few hundred of candy canes. This year, Moran said her grand total reached nearly 900.
While checking out at a Meijer store with dozens of boxes of treats, Moran described to an inquisitive clerk about how the canes were a treat for the students at her school. “She said, ‘Oh, I’ll bet the little kids really appreciate it,'” Moran said. “I didn’t want to tell her they’re 18 to 22 years old.”
In the first day and a half the tree was up after the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday, it was stocked twice.
“It’s nice because we know it’s for us,” senior Rani Kaila said. “It helps with the belonging feeling. It’s nice to feel like it’s a part of our culture here at the school. This is unique to Aurora.”
Barry Bottino is a regional editor.
SEE MORE photos of Aurora University’s holiday tree tradition at Nurse.com/galleries.