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He Speaks for the Trees

Groundskeeper and AU grad student John Boyle Ruiz, SIS/BA ’22, has bloomed where he’s planted, launching the arboretum’s Tree Thursday Instagram series

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John Boyle RuizEvery day is Campus Beautification Day for John Boyle Ruiz, SIS/BA ’22. 

As a member of AU’s groundskeeping team, he helps keep the 84-acre campus—an accredited, award-winning arboretum—pruned and pristine. And since joining Facilities Management in June, the budding arborist—who’s working toward his certification through the International Society of Arboriculture—has branched out, launching the popular Tree Thursdays series on Instagram to share his enthusiasm for evergreens with the university community.

“I believe the climate crisis is the pressing issue of our time. Tree Thursdays is a way to spread cheer and my passion for trees,” said Boyle Ruiz, a former Community-Based Research Scholar and current AU grad student who is pursuing a master’s in data science with a specialization in environmental science. 

Each week, the series showcases one of the nearly 6,000 trees representing 500 species that dot the AU Arboretum and Gardens, which last year marked its 20th anniversary. Every post kicks off with woody witticism (Why do trees get into fights? Because they’re always throwing shade!) and includes the species’ Latin name and a list of fun facts about the tree. (Magnolia virginiana, the sweetbay magnolia, boasts creamy-white lemon-scented flowers that bloom from June to September.)

The idea for the series took root when Boyle Ruiz, a month into his new job, began snapping shots of his picturesque office and sending them to his mom and abuela. “I thought, ‘Our campus is so beautiful, why don’t we publicize it more?’”

The Massachusetts native has done just that, with his posts regularly garnering dozens of likes and appreciative comments from amateur arborists across campus. President Sylvia Burwell even made a guest appearance in the March 28 post on the Yoshino cherry tree.

“I just want people to understand how important trees are to our environment. They [absorb] carbon dioxide and release oxygen; create habitats; increase biodiversity, especially for pollinators; filter water; stabilize soil; and prevent erosion,” Boyle Ruiz said. “They’re simply amazing.”

“John has been enthusiastic and eager to learn about the arboretum from his first day joining us,” said Ransom Schutt, assistant director of grounds operations, vehicle maintenance, and support services. “He has great ideas, and he is passionate about helping to promote American University's campus and community. Tree Thursdays is an excellent way for us to reach out to the community through our arboretum to get them thinking and talking about the university.”groundskeepersThe series also celebrates AU’s groundskeepers—the hardworking men and women who keep our campus looking its best, no matter the season.

“There’s such a sense of community with the grounds team. We’re always laughing, and I’ve learned so much from them,” Boyle Ruiz said. “They have accepted me like they’re my uncles or cousins, which for me are very important titles.”

He also appreciates that his coworkers are supportive of social media endeavors. “They’ll chuckle a bit when I wish them a happy Tree Thursday,” Boyle Ruiz said with a big grin. “But I know I’m making change, one tree at a time.”