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Final THON as a Penn State Student Brings Back Memories

by and on February 23, 2014 11:45 AM

To think that this is my last THON as a Penn State student brings tears to my eyes. 

How can I ever repay an organization that has given so much to me in so little time? But that truly is the beautiful thing about THON; it does so much for other people, many complete strangers, and asks for nothing in return. 

It brings together people from all walks of life, whose paths might never have crossed if it weren’t for their common goal of fighting pediatric cancer.

To sum up my four years of being involved with THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, feels like an impossible task. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried and I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime. I have been tested on every level, emotionally, physically and mentally, and have come out a better, stronger person in the end. 

To think that a club can do that much for a person is mindboggling, yet each year, a whole new group of people get to experience the magic that surrounds THON and its core mission of fighting pediatric cancer. When I look back on my four years at Penn State, THON has been the one constant in my life and an experience I will be sure to never forget.

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was walking to my first THON meeting as a bright-eyed freshman on the OPPerations Committee for THON 2011. My high school had started a mini-THON a few years back, so while I was aware that THON was something I had to get involved with at Penn State, nothing could have prepared me for the journey I was about to begin.

Like most incoming freshman, I had a hard time adjusting to being away from home and in a completely new environment. I was experiencing everything for the first time and as exciting as that was, I felt lost. 

THON could not have come into my life at a more perfect time. My committee that year soon became my family and as we learned more and more about THON, my excitement grew. 

No one can prepare you for what it feels like to walk into the BJC for the first time on THON weekend. The sea of colors, crazy outfits, blaring music, silly dancing and smiles from ear to ear; it is sensory overload in the best way possible. I knew right then and there, staring out at the BJC floor that I had to do more for THON. 

After a whirlwind weekend and end of my first year at school, I knew that the following year I wanted to apply to be a captain and give as much as I could to THON.  That following fall, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a merchandise captain for THON 2012. 

The year leading up to THON 2012 and my first year as a captain had a profound effect on me. I dove right into being a captain and never missed out on an opportunity to volunteer my time and give back. Like everything in life, you get out of THON what you put into it and I never wanted to look back and take for granted the opportunity I had in front of me.

THON 2012 was a whirlwind. Being on a working committee like Merchandise is nonstop work and responsibilities. From early Friday morning into late Sunday night, the work never stops and it was over in the blink of an eye. It was without a doubt one of the best weekends of my life and one of the most rewarding to know that I was making a difference. As spring and summer came and went and the fall approached, I knew I wanted to apply to be a captain again. I was chosen to be a public relations captain for THON 2013. 

Just as in the previous two years, I immediately began the journey of a lifetime with a new group of inspiring people by my side. Being on three different committees gave me a new perspective on THON. I could see just how each committee plays an integral role in making THON a success. 

I specifically remember a time during THON 2013 where I hit a complete wall. I was tired, cranky and throwing myself a pity party. As I went to the bathroom to freshen up, a THON child and her mom walked out of the stall behind me. This little girl, looked up at me with big eyes and a huge smile and instantly, I felt better. 

We talked for a few minutes and she told me about her pet bunny and how she was having so much fun doing the line dance on the floor.  This little moment in time, in a BJC bathroom, is the epitome of why I THON. At the mere age for 4 or 5, this little girl had already experienced a lifetime of pain, suffering and worry and yet here she was embracing the moment and living life to the fullest. 

She probably will never know it, but she changed me. She showed me that anything is possible and that just because you are dealt a certain hand, it doesn’t mean you have to let it ruin all the beautiful things life has to offer.

As I began my senior year and got the call that I would be a merchandise captain for THON 2014, it seemed only seemed fitting. My THON journey had come full circle and I would end my final THON as a captain in the same position I had started in. I have had the time of my life this year, made lifelong memories and have opened myself up to the most sincere and inspiring group of people. 

THON has changed me. It has taught me to face tasks that seem impossible with courage and bravery, and the determination to know I can succeed. THON has allowed me to open up to complete strangers, giving me some of the most genuine and pure friendships I could have ever imagined. 

THON is a family and it’s that togetherness that will stand the test of time. It has the unique ability to bring together two completely different groups of people, college students without a care in the world and families and kids who are in the fight of their lives; yet despite their differences, they are able to bond.

They are able to forge friendships, relationships and memories in spite of this terrible disease that does it’s best to take away so much.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Kelsey Thompson is a Penn State senior and former Centre County Gazette intern.
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