My THON Journey: A Reflection After THON 2018

After the Penn State community has taken its well-deserved nap and spent a couple hours off its feet, it’s time to start reflecting on what a weekend it was and the amazing things it accomplished. As a senior, THON 2018 was one for the books - and I’ll be in denial for a long time about the fact that my THON career as a student has come to an end.

Like the rest of the class of 2018, my THON journey began back in 2014 in preparation for THON 2015. During that fall semester, I really don’t know when I started to get excited for THON - I truly couldn’t understand it yet. I knew everything that an outsider knows; I had only seen the surface. I went on one canning trip but didn’t have a totally positive experience. I had no idea what the difference between a THON org and a committee was, nor did I know how to join one. I had just joined a sorority and listened to the older sisters when they told me it was something I would have to experience to understand. I waited to find out for myself. 

And now, three years later, this event, this cause, this weekend has become a part of my life forever - a part of who I am, because it changed who I was a long time ago. I could never thank this organization enough for what it has given me in my time as a Penn Stater - the time and efforts that I put in will never adequately be enough to repay it.

THON 2015 transformed me from an apathetic teenager to someone with a cause they would fight through anything for. I think I had always been looking for that, and just didn’t know where I would find it. Back in high school and throughout my teenage years, I never appreciated anything and had little care for much outside my small bubble. I couldn’t wait to go to Penn State, knowing it would be the best time of my life - I just didn’t know how different I would turn out on the other side. I have THON to thank for that.

 

In the stands for the first time, watching ~700 people dance for forty-six hours, hearing families speak, crying my eyes out for people I never met - it changed something inside of me. I felt so ridiculous for any complaint I’d ever made and I felt that I had been blind to how lucky I’ve been. My life has been touched by cancer in different spots, but there’s never been a time it was too serious and I never had to worry about losing someone close to me. THON made me realize that’s not the case for everyone. I was moved beyond words by the stories that were shared and by the dedication of the students around me. I had finally found the cause that motivated me to make some changes. 

After that weekend ended, I didn’t know how to get involved again until the next year. An unexpected event that fall led to me taking on a big role in my sorority, which prevented me from applying to a committee. I involved myself in our efforts along with our Greek partner, and looked forward to spending more time in the BJC at THON 2016. That weekend in February changed everything again.

 

For some reason, THON 2016 clicked with me even more than the previous year did. I understood it more and was better prepared. I was looking forward to the event and actually knew what to expect, and brought the tissues I could have used the year before. I couldn’t wait to be back in the BJC, fully comprehending what was ahead of me for the first time.

That weekend propelled my passion from the year before even further. The line dance, the atmosphere, everything about that weekend brought out lots of tears, so much joy, and an even stronger drive to fight against this disease. I left the BJC that Sunday feeling more inspired and empowered than ever. I wanted THON to be a bigger part of my college career. I didn’t want to just be a spectator anymore.

Flash forward to my junior year, and I joined my first THON committee, Special Events. Other than making some great friends and meeting 33 incredible new people, I think the main lesson I took away from that experience was how important it is to remember what we’re fighting for. That was the toughest semester of my college career, with time-consuming classes and extracurricular activities, but every Wednesday, my captain would remind me that the time we spent together was doing so much good for people we’d never met. That was all I needed to know. All of my worries were miniscule compared to those of a child battling cancer and their family - the least I could do was give my time and energy to help them get through it.

After falling in love with this new family, I had to tear myself away from them when I studied abroad in the spring of 2017. This also meant that I would be missing THON that year. The only time during that semester that I wished I was at school was during THON weekend. It was harder to be away from the BJC than I expected, and my friends and I spent the night watching 46Live and rushing home to see the total reveal. I was so proud of my friends that danced and went in the stands, but I couldn’t deny how upset I was that I had missed THON 2017. I knew that THON 2018 was going to be special to make up for lost time.

 

 By the beginning of my senior year, THON was a core element of my journey through Penn State. Instead of trying to dance, I applied to a Public Relations committee and found another home with the 27 members of Dave and PRusters. This would be the first time I would be at THON as a committee, aka working at THON instead of simply attending it as a spectator. I couldn’t wait to actually help THON function - it felt more meaningful than just watching. 

I have always gone canning and helped in sorority fundraisers, but for the final time I tried to step it up. I wanted to make sure I was contributing to the organization that has given so much to me and to the families that need it. Though I definitely annoyed anyone who’s connected with me on social media, I pushed my Donor Drive page and all alternate fundraisers like never before. Irritating non-Penn Staters is a small price to pay to save lives, right?

I am forever grateful to my committee for giving me the chance to get involved on such a deeper level. Helping THON come to life and attending THON are two completely different things, as I found out this weekend. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to witness both sides. And being on the floor and being able to see the dancers and help them through the weekend was one of the most humbling experiences I can imagine. No words will adequately sum up the emotions that ran through me, as most volunteers will agree.

I think anyone in the class of 2018 can say it’s been a wild ride for us with THON. Canning was cancelled our sophomore year, and Greek life has been on a roller coaster since then. There have been partner switches, children have lost their battles, and it’s been easy to lose hope at times. Yet year after year, THON weekend reminds us that there is always more positive than negative, and puts things in perspective once again.

When THON 2018 finally arrived, it didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real that it’s over. Attending as a committee member, joining my friends in the stands, performing the line dances from years ago with my fellow seniors, and every memory made reminded me how unbelievably lucky I am to have been a part of this for four years. Just because I will no longer be a student soon doesn’t mean I won’t be participating in the world’s largest student-run philanthropy. An event this powerful is going to stay without me through my life.

My heart has never been fuller than it was in the hours I spent on the floor. Kids I had never met were eager to start water gun fights and were honestly able to beat me even when I did try my hardest. That may have been the only time I wasn’t unhappy about losing; I would do anything in the world to make those kids smile. They deserve it more than anyone.

 To all the dancers, thank you for standing and even when it felt impossible to go on. To everyone who participated, thank you for helping cheer the dancers on, and never forget why we do this. To every committee member, captain, and director - thank you for the hard work that makes THON what it is; I’ve never been able to fully appreciate all you do until I saw it myself. To every THON family and child, you change our lives - not just the other way around.

 THON, it’s been a journey. Thank you for turning me into who I am today. FTK always.

 

Header Image: Becky Sorensen, HC PSU