Yesterday, I wrote a post about the miracle of online grocery shopping. After the shocking revelations about the Penn State child abuse scandal, I wanted to try to get my mind on something else. But I still can’t get these images and stories out of my head. What these kids have gone through, it’s just too horrible to even imagine. The fact that the University’s leadership has been implicated in a cover up and the fact that some students have chosen to bring further embarrassment to the University by rioting in the streets, it’s all just too much to take in. Especially as the parent of a young boy. So a post about my grocery shopping habits just seems a bit, well, shallow.
But, somehow, I need to make peace with the situation. This doesn’t diminish the anguish I feel for these young victims. This doesn’t mean I am any less angry about the complete lack of humanity displayed by the leadership of my school. It just means I can’t continue to read the stories every day because it just tears me up inside. I need to take the negative emotions I’m feeling now about my school and do something positive with them. I enjoyed football at Penn State and I went to the games. But football is not what defined me as a person and it’s not what defined my experience at Penn State.
Something that did, however, was THON. Held since 1973, the Penn State Dance Marathon is the world’s largest student run philanthropy, last year raising almost $8 million in support of the Four Diamonds Fund. THON is an integral part of the culture at Penn State. Thousands of student volunteers come together annually to organize the event, now just 98 days away. Thousands more volunteer to do fundraising. And then there are the real heros, the hundreds of dancers who voluntarily get blisters on their feet as they stay awake and upright for 48 hours. THON is a shining example of what’s good about Penn State and how students can come together for a purpose that is bigger than them, bigger than their university, bigger than football.
I became involved with THON in 1989 as a member of the Physical Plant committee (now called OPPerations). Typical of my career choices, I went where girls don’t go, where wielding a hammer and screwdriver were key success factors of the job. Physical Plant did the building, the mopping up, and the tearing down. We transformed the Penn State White Building into a dance hall. In 1990 and 1991 I went on to serve as one of the Captains of the Physical Plant team. Never have dirty work and manual labor been so rewarding.
But, not only did I contribute to the annual planning process required to put on an event of this size, I also spent my winters fundraising. As a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, we were fiercely competitive trying every year to top the list of fundraising organizations. My January and February weekends were largely spent “canning.” Reading the description now, I see that twenty years ago we largely stuck to the “Don’t” advice. We stood in the middle of intersections, intersections we’d scoped out and competed against other organizations to claim as our own. We asked complete strangers to roll down their windows and give us their spare change. We’d do this all weekend and then count our coins in the evening. Remarkably, we’d come home with thousands of dollars in coins.
My experiences with THON during my time at Penn State taught me about the potential of human beings to do good things. They taught me about teamwork and about leadership. They taught me about giving back, whether it’s time or money, about giving something to help those less fortunate. These are things I certainly didn’t learn by attending a football game. These students that organize and fundraise and dance for THON, they’re what Penn State is really about.
So students of Penn State, do you want to use your time at Penn State learning valuable lessons, life lessons, lessons that will make you a better person and a future leader in whatever career path you choose? Then don’t riot in the streets. Twenty years from now with the benefit of hindsight, you’re not going to look back on that behaviour in a positive light and be proud. Instead, donate your time or your money or both to be part of something good, to be part of something that helps kids less fortunate than you. Get involved in THON.
Alumni, you can do the same. Demonstrate that the events of the past few days don’t represent what Penn Staters are about. Get out your wallet and donate to THON.
Author’s Note and Correction: The team at THON have brought to my attention that last year they in fact raised more than $9.56 million and that today they only dance for 46 hours. Even better news then my original post. Well done THON!