THON- the world’s largest student run philanthropic organization. Penn State University specific. We fundraise each year from August-February through canning weekends and various other fundraisers. Proceeds go to the Milton Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania in order to help give funds to the children and families of children suffering from Pediatric Cancer.
THON Weekend- the 46 hour Panhellenic dance a thon, which signifies the end of the THON fundraising year during the third weekend of February every year.
What THON Means to Me:
Chances are, if you live in Pennsylvania, you’ve heard of THON and most people have definitely heard of Penn State University. When I was a senior in high school was when I applied to a few choice colleges and eventually decided to go to Penn State. I chose Penn State because I loved the overwhelming sense of community that PSU had amongst students, alumni, and even faculty. However, what drew me to PSU more than anything was THON. In my mind, going to college was a self motivated choice. I was going to further MY education so that I could get a great job some day and be happy with MY life choices. THON was something that stuck out in my mind as something I could take part in to remind me to stay humble while at an extraordinary university, and to help me remember to always give of my time, energy, and love when I had the chance.
However, not in a million years would I have imagined that THON could have impacted me in the way that it has.
When I started my freshman year here at PSU (A commonwealth campus, as I’m doing the 2+2 program), I immediately became involved with THON. A few weeks into the fall semester, there were applications and interviews for THON Committee Captains. Initially, I applied for the Family Relations Captain position, but when I was offered the Special Events Captain position I couldn’t resist.
Over the fall and spring semesters, I immersed myself entirely in THON. With all my classes and hours at my part time job in a pizzeria, THON became my stress reliever. I loved helping plan, coordinate and run fundraising events. (My favorite was the Haunted House we put together semi last minute in October).
When the spring semester started, we had dancer applications.(Our campus was able to elect two). I applied, interviewed, and presented a powerpoint about why I would be a good representation of our campus’s THON. however, our dancers were two stellar ladies in the class above me.
Our THON captains, chair, dancers, and advisor left for University Park the day before THON started. We got settled into our hotel late Thursday night after a mid roadtrip Olive Garden and Walmart stop. The next morning, we meandered around downtown and bought more THON gear (a.k.a Penn State attire and tutus) before we headed to the Stadium in order to wait for access to the Bryce Jordan Center. Let me tell you; we waited for hours holding our signs in the below freezing temperatures. By the time we made it inside, we couldn’t feel our feet, hands or faces. We waited for the rest of our campus to arrive by bus and enjoyed the remaining half hour we were allowed to sit for the next 46 hours.
As soon as the ten second count down till standing began, I got butterflies in my stomach. I realized my heart was racing and then the music started. It was crazy really, to look at this crowd of thousands of people and know that we were all there for the very same reason. My groups sleep shift came and passed. We reluctantly left the BJC and somewhat reluctantly left our hotel beds at the end of our sleep shift.
As the hours passed in the BJC, I grew exhausted. My friends and I walked around with a free hugs sign (and got over 300 hugs) and encouraged eachother to press on. We shared frozen waterbottles to roll our aching feet over, and passed tennis balls down the aisles to share to ease the foot pain. Never before had I rubbed my feet in the crevice of two stadium seats in order to massage my foot, but hey, there are firsts for everything.
The pass system was taking forever to let me visit our dancers on the floor and I became so frustrated by Sunday morning at 2 am that I was nearly in tears. I had a pass time of 8 pm and it was making me increasingly sad that all of the four diamonds children whom I had wanted to meet during my time with the dancers had all gone to bed. However, at around 2:30 am I got a text saying I could go down to the floor. Remember how I said I was so ready to cry? I did. I was so happy to see my dancers (who were crying while reading their mail call) that I burst into tears and hugged each one of them. Once we cleaned ourselves up and they ran for a bathroom break, we danced our hearts out for the remainder of the time that I was on the floor with them. It was incredible being on the floor. It seems kinda empty during certain times throughout the weekend while dancers are eating or changing in back rooms, but when I was on the floor it felt so full of life. Everyone was so happy. And it was so wonderful to look up in the stands and see so many people there, for these kids, most of whom we don’t know personally.
I got one more chance to go to the floor at around 8 am on Sunday morning for an hour and I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open. I admire our campus’s dancers for being so energetic and happy and strong through out all of THON weekend. I ended up going to sleep in someone’s car for 45 minutes with a friend before coming back into the BJC. Turns out, that powernap and my amazing friends woke me up enough to dance on for the remaining hours.
I wasn’t quitting on these kids because these kids weren’t quitting on life.
Just when exhaustion and body aches were reaching an all time high, Family Hour arrived. I’d heard that Sunday afternoons at THON made it worth all the struggles of the previous hours. Everyone was right.
They had families share stories about their journeys with Penn State and cancer treatments. All these beautiful little children were so inspired by Penn State, and all of the students who work together to give to all of these kids and their families. They played videos of children who had conquered cancer, and those who had not. I can’t put into words the feeling in the BJC from the start of family hour until the end of THON. It was just Love. The BJC was filled with nothing but Love during this time. I looked across the BJC at the packed stadium seats. I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the building. I thought to myself how there wasn’t a single place in the world I would rather be than there, in that moment in time. Strangers hugging each other, dancing together, even holding hands. We were here, together, not for ourselves, but for the kids. I still can’t believe how easily and how quickly I fell in love with all of these children I didn’t even remember the names of. It really is amazing, being able to look back and know that you were blessed enough to be in such a place, you were blessed with an able body and two arms and two legs and a brain inside your head and a heart inside your chest to give. You were blessed with the ability to give to all of these children who struggle with pain and illness every day, and the parents who struggle with bills and emotional toil of seeing their child, their most prized possession in pain that they can’t make go away with a band aid or a kiss on the boo boo.
THON has helped me realize that I am blessed.
I am blessed to be alive.
I am blessed to be part of such an amazing University Family.
I am blessed to be in THON.
I am blessed to have met each and every child that I met at THON.
I am blessed to have met wonderful people at THON.
Joining THON was truly one of the best decisions I have made and will ever make in life.
“So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.”
Get out there. Go out into the world and give what you can of yourself to others in need. Goddamnit radiate love into the world, because we ALL could use a little bit more of it.