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Posts Tagged ‘Penn State’

I am achy, bleary-eyed and yawning incessantly this morning. But so very happy.

For those of you who don’t know the magic that is THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, let me explain.

AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey

Officially known as The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, THON was started 40 years ago by Penn State students who wanted to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Inspired by the story of Christopher Millard, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11, they earmarked all their proceeds for Penn State Hershey’s Children’s Hospital Four Diamonds Fund which supports pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Christopher’s parents, Charles and Irma Millard, established the Four Diamonds Fund in his memory. Before he succumbed to the disease at age 14, Christopher wrote a story about a knight searching for four diamonds — Courage, Wisdom, Honesty and Strength — that would release him from captivity by an evil sorceress.

It is unthinkable; the worst nightmare possible. Your child is sick, not getting better. You are delirious with worry. Imagine hearing the words no parent ever wants to hear. Picture being wracked with fear, grief, anxiety. That’s where the Four Diamonds Fund comes in. The Fund offsets the cost of treatment that insurance doesn’t cover, and takes cares of expenses incurred by the child and family, making sure that of all the things to worry about, finances won’t be one of them.

To raise money, students plan events throughout the year, most visibly on “canning” weekends, when students fan out into communities to solicit donations. Since canning weekends are in the late fall and early winter, it is usually freezing cold. But Penn State students don’t let a little cold slow them down.

All the Penn State campuses are involved. Alumni groups pitch in. Even high schools have “mini THONS.” More than 350 groups and organizations are involved with THON, and about 15,000 Penn State students volunteer in some capacity. Imagine all that goes into an undertaking of this magnitude, and then remember that this is completely student-run. Clearly, Penn State students are the most amazing in the world.

THON weekend is in February and is held at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus. Seven hundred students are on their feet for 46 hours, and 15,000 people fill the stands (and “stands” is the operative word; no one sits) to cheer them on. Brightly colored t-shirts identify each participating organization.  The energy is extraordinary; everyone is always moving, dancing, cheering, singing, swaying, clapping.  THON weekend is a combination of rock concert, revival meeting, circus, song fest, dance, pep rally, costume party, exercise workout, and bonding experience, and that’s just the beginning. I still haven’t found the words to adequately describe THON.

students make the "diamond" sign

THON kids and their families are the VIPs. Many of the parents say that their kids love THON as much as Christmas. The kids get to be kids and have an entire weekend of fun. Some of them perform on stage. Most of them are happy to run around the floor and play with the Penn State dancers. There are spirited water pistol battles, piggyback rides, face painting, bubble blowing, and lots of hugging.

photo by 6ABC

Although the ambiance is mostly festive, there are moments of deep sadness. Several THON families share their stories, and not all of them have a happy ending. We cheer at the videos of children who have beaten the disease, and sob at the ones portraying kids who have lost the battle. It is because of them that we will keep fighting until no child has to endure this terrible fate, and no parent has to hear that grim diagnosis. We THON FTK: For the Kids.

Bryce Carter, on crutches, and his family. His mom describes his ongoing battle with cancer. AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey.

Penn State students raised $10.6 million for the kids this year. This shatters last year’s total by more than a million dollars. Like everyone else, I was on my feet for the better part of two and a half days. I am beyond exhausted, but bursting with love and Penn State pride.

Joe Paterno left us with a mandate: make an impact. Thank you, Penn State students, for doing just that. FTK.

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Lois was a doe-eyed brunette from Squirrel Hill, a soft-spoken co-ed studying child development. Irv was handsome and funny, an all-around great guy and proud member of Phi Ep, a science major full of ambition.

Irv was friendly with a hometown girl, Anita, whose dorm room was next door to Lois’. The girls helped each other out with phone calls: if the phone rang when one of them was out, the other would answer and take a message. Lois and Irv got to know each other over the phone, when she would pick up to take a message for Anita. It got to the point, Irv admits, where he secretly hoped Lois would answer the call.

“But he knew me by sight,” Lois says. “He just didn’t know that I was the person on the phone. I thought, well, he’s seen me on campus and hasn’t asked me out. But when he finally realized I was that girl and asked me on a date, I said yes.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

My parents, Lois and Irv, met at Penn State, just weeks before my mother would graduate. My dad had been in the army and was attending Penn State on the GI Bill, so he was a year behind her. Their first date was a basketball game and, afterwards, dinner at a club called Paradise in Bellefonte. Just weeks later, my mother graduated and moved back to Pittsburgh to work at Fineman’s, the family store in Turtle Creek.

My dad spent his senior year studying during the week and driving to Pittsburgh on weekends to spend time with my mother. The following June, he graduated, they got married and the young couple moved to Reading, his home town. They settled into married life, and after three years I joined the family, followed by my brother two years later.

I was pretty darn adorable.

This is my favorite picture of my brother, ever.

Penn State felt like another sibling, always referred to with love and affection. It was a presence in our household and in our extended family, since dozens of family members were proud Penn State alumni. Uncle Lew even had a life-size cardboard replica of Joe Paterno that sometimes appeared at family functions. My parents were always devoted to their alma mater, involved with programs at University Park as well as the Berks campus.  There was no question in my mind that, like them, I would be a Penn Stater myself someday.

Well, things did not play out exactly as planned. An indifferent student in high school, I did not have stellar grades or SAT scores. Penn State accepted me to a branch campus but in the end I decided to go elsewhere.

Fast forward many years. I was married, had children, pursued a career in marketing and communications. To my utter delight, an opportunity arose at what was then Penn State Delaware County, now Brandywine, and I became an official member of the Penn State community almost five years ago. At the same time, our youngest daughter, Laurie, started her freshman year at Penn State’s main campus in University Park. Both life events were thrilling and a source of pride.

Laurie graduated this past May after four fantastic years. She worked hard and played hard, made lifelong friends, participated in THON, spent a semester in Paris, had the college experience everyone should have. Her first job came about through a Penn State connection. Penn Staters look out for Penn Staters. This is a fact.

My three Penn State grads: Dad, Laurie and Mom.

Penn State is in my DNA. Penn State will always be family to me, a family member for whom I have enormous respect. Penn State is world-renowned faculty, unlimited opportunities for learning, international programs, internships, a Big Ten education. It is the fabulous students — bright, caring, talented, spirited, driven. It is brilliant professors, THON,  stickies and Creamery ice cream, singing the alma mater, the biggest alumni association in the world.

Penn State is bigger than the actions or inactions of a few. We Penn Staters will get through this crisis because we are strong and resilient. We will do what we can to right the wrongs, to give back as Penn Staters do, to heal others and ourselves. Our reputation as a university with the highest ethical standards will be restored. I am so proud to be a Penn Stater. We are … I am …   Penn State.

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