Penn State THON changing lives, and the world, for the better | Opinion
The annual dance marathon is much more than just a fundraiser. It helps students, families, and researchers
First Line Dance at THON 2020 on 2/21/20 (Photo by Delicia Daniels/Penn State University).
By Neeli Bendapudi and Lily Pevoto
Every February, Penn State students take to the dance floor to raise funds for childhood cancer through what is widely known as THON, a dance marathon that started in 1973 in which students dance for 46 hours to benefit Four Diamonds each year.
As you read this, you may be thinking “yes, another fundraiser,” but THON is so much more — not only to the families and children with cancer, but also to scientists who receive much-needed research dollars, and to student volunteers who experience emotions they did not expect, as well as lessons that last a lifetime.
Penn State is known throughout the world as an institution dedicated to excellence, inclusivity and making a positive difference in lives around our commonwealth, nation and world — and THON is one of the greatest examples of this inclusive, collaborative and mission-driven culture.
As the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, THON offers Penn State students opportunities and experiences that are available nowhere else.
Motivated by a passion to bring comfort and hope to families facing the horrors of childhood cancer, THON invites all students to contribute and be a part of something larger than themselves. In doing so, these students learn how to give their time, talents and efforts for the greater good; to be leaders and change-makers; and to be advocates for others in their time of greatest need.
Simply put: THON helps Penn State students grow as individuals as they also learn how to change the world.
For the families who benefit from the life-saving treatments provided by Penn State Health Children’s Hospital at zero cost to themselves, fueled by cutting-edge cancer research taking place at both Penn State Health and the College of Medicine, their lives are forever changed for the better. THON supports and funds both aspects of this life-altering experience.
But it is not only the lives of patients and families that are forever changed by THON: every student who joins together to make this event happen, year after year, is impacted in ways they probably had not considered.
The education of these students is immeasurably enriched by their involvement in THON: learning critical skills they carry forward into their careers, such as leadership, relationship-building, partnership management, project management, problem solving and more.
THON actively works to welcome in every student, from every field of study, from every identity, background and walk of life, who wants to be a part of this shared mission. THON encourages students to build connections and learn from each other, especially with those different from themselves, to forge stronger relationships, deeper understandings, and shared commitments to a collective vision.
Students build friendships that last a lifetime, helping create professional networks before they’ve even graduated. For the students who make THON happen every year, the experience is representative of Penn State’s holistic approach to an education that not only exposes students to new knowledge and develops them as professionals, but also prompts their growth as individuals — cultivating self-confidence, empathy, teamwork, and a dedication to creating positive change.
These are critical traits they will use throughout their lives.
THON unites students, long after graduation. Every year, thousands of THON alumni from every corner of the world donate funds, time or energy to support this critical effort.
And every year, a portion of our alumni return to Happy Valley to join students as they dance for a cure. THON is a lifelong commitment for students — much like how Penn State makes a lifelong commitment to students to help them grow, thrive and achieve throughout their careers.
As amazing as THON is — raising a record-setting $13.7 million in 2022 — Penn State students are never content to let this event be “good enough.” They always ask, “How can we do more? How can we change more lives? How can we do this important work even better?”
That spirit of innovation and drive, whether cultivated in the classroom or through volunteer activities like THON, motivates students to push to even greater heights, which is exactly what a college education should do.
We are proud of every student who makes THON a success every year. And we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this life-changing work – outside the classroom. Work that elevates individual goals into a shared vision. Work that translates into a higher purpose.
Neeli Bendapudi is the president of Penn State University. Lily Pevoto is the THON executive director, and a member of Penn State University’s Class of 2023.
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Capital-Star Guest Contributor