Summer on the American University campus can be described in one word: hot. Despite that, grounds keeper Juan Reyes and summer intern Kenny Sui toil outside in the glare Friday. At first glance the two seem to have the same job. To the untrained eye it may seem that their work in the various gardens around campus is simple though necessary gardening, an element of adding beauty to the place.
This assumption is true for Reyes. “I take care of the plants, pull weeds, and water them,” he says with a shrug. A deeper connection to his job is revealed in that his mother has worked at American University for 20 years. Nevertheless, his body language indicates that this is simply a job to him, something to pay the bills.
In the quad the sun is sweltering. Heat seems to press down like an anvil waiting to smite the unwitting and dehydrated. Cicadas screech in the otherwise muffled campus center. Its inhabitants are aware of traffic sounds and construction but at midday, a quiet peace settles over the scene. Gardening vehicles roam with the words “The American Dream is Green” printed on their sides.
Gardening is one of the only focuses now on a slow summer campus. Yes, new students and occasional staff meander through, but to truly capture the essence of the summer months, the daily work of the flowers and shrubs is truly exemplary of the lackadaisical sensation. This is not to say that spending hours bent over in the 100-degree weather is easy.
Sui is not a gardener. He explains to reporters that he is interning here at American University as part of the sustainable sites project in the goal of making campus buildings more environmentally friendly. He appreciates the hands-on experience.
This project is a continuation of American University’s efforts to “think green” primarily instigated on Friday, May 14, 2010 when a new 70,000 square foot eco-friendly building on campus was opened. The building, designed by “green” architect William McDonough has many innovations including low-flow faucets and technology to collect rainwater for landscaping. Currently, the most common use of the building is the coffee shop in the bottom corner, which is a favorite air-conditioned haunt of campus dwellers who crave an iced vanilla latte.
The building will be put into full use for the first time in September 2010. New students like incoming freshman Bryn Keane-Farrell will be able to appreciate at that time. As of now, she is more focused on orientation and meeting her leaders and future classmates. She describes the ordeal as “necessary, but not every session is interesting,” and acknowledges the need to tie up “all the little odds and ends. Things that might not be as well advertised elsewhere.” In the lazy heat of summer it seems difficult to imagine the grind of the coming fall.
Possibly after the stress of coming to college wears off she will discover the hidden growth around her that is constant. She will, no doubt hear about the pride that American University takes in spearheading the green movement with a passion.