From being buried in sand for a rainy 24 hours to eating an entire vinyl record to sleeping in a raft for two weeks, students competing to be outfitted as the new Stanford Tree mascot underwent some of the most daring and creative stunts on campus during Tree Week.
The victor: Caroline Kushel ’21, chosen to be the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band Stanford Tree on March 3.
A total of four candidates, nicknamed “sprouts,” completed this year’s Tree Week. Aside from Kushel, the other three participants were Jana Kholy ’20, Sadie Thompson ’22 and Kylie Holland ’21. Contrary to its title, Tree Week actually consists of two weeks — this year, Feb. 18 to March 3 — during which the Sprouts do as many elaborate stunts as they can.
“We tell [the] sprouts that it’s their week,” said 2018-19 Tree Dahkota Brown ’20. “This is the time of year where they have the opportunity to do stuff they never had the chance to before, or never had an excuse for.”
Kushel’s stunts revolved around the theme “Pyschetreelia”: all of her stunts were related to the psychedelic craze of the 1960s, including a fake Vietnam War protest, Woodstock and moon landing.
“[For the fake moon landing] I got hoisted up 35 [or] 40 feet up into a tree, and then I got dropped down, at which point I fought an ‘alien,’ killed him and then flew back into the tree,” Kushel said.
But her fake Woodstock was even more extreme.
“I ate a vinyl copy of the Grateful Dead Greatest Hits, and then, when it was time, I went to the San Francisco Bay Area off Pier 39 and I proceeded to poop out the album into the San Francisco Bay, which is the same place where Jerry Garcia’s [the lead singer of the Grateful Dead] ashes are scattered,” she recounted.
Kushel’s favorite stunt, though, was her last. The act, modeled off of the annual Burning Man event that culminates in the symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy, saw Kushel build her own version of the burning man structure to light on fire. After, she covered her hands in butane and grasped fire from the structure while reciting a monologue about society’s oppression of creativity.
“I actually ended up lighting my dress on fire by accident and had to be extinguished,” she said.
Although Brown eventually chose Kushel as the Tree, he said all candidates had great stunts this year.
“All the sprouts did some stuff that I never would have done — that’s how you know it’s a good Tree Week,” he said.
For example, Thompson’s stunts included sleeping in a raft in the Green Library fountain for all of Tree Week. She also taped herself to a tree to give the appearance of a crucifixion, and slept there overnight.
Kholy’s theme was “Cleopatree,” a nod to her Egyptian heritage. One of her biggest stunts, she said, was being rolled around in a carpet for 10 hours as she read excerpts from the dictionary out loud. The stunt was inspired by the story of Cleopatra sneaking into Julius Caesar’s office while rolled in a rug.
“I read the dictionary as a sort of ‘knowledge is power’ type thing,” Kholy added.
In her final stunt, Kholy filled a kiddie pool with sand, put it in White Plaza and buried herself in it for 24 hours. As her body “began to decay,” she covered herself in mealworms.
Despite the rainy night in the sand-filled kiddie pool, Kholy said it was worth it. The only drawback, she added, was the amount of time she spent on her stunts. She said her mind was “always working” during Tree Week, even when she was trying to focus on school.
“How can I make this stunt more creative or more fun for people to watch?” she would ask herself. “Did my adult diaper order come in from Amazon?”
Kushel echoed Kholy’s sentiments.
“You don’t get time to sleep, you don’t get time to eat, you’ve just got to be on the ball doing it 24/7,” Kushel said.
Nevertheless, Kholy and Kushel said they are glad they participated in Tree Week.
“Everyone looks on the Stanford Tree like, ‘That’s debauchery, that’s foolish,’” Kushel said. “But to us, and I think to anyone that’s ever tried out, it’s a spiritual pilgrimage. You never are the same after Tree Week.”
Brown consulted previous Trees before making his final decision, reporting that there was “nothing but positive feedback about Caroline.”
“They say you’re born the Tree, and Tree Week just reveals it to you,” Kushel said.
Contact Clara Kieschnick at ckiesch ‘at’ stanford.edu.