Ivy Leaf - Spring 2011

Thoughts from the Chancellor


In my experience as Chancellor, I have learned that there is no shortage of inspiring stories when it comes to our students' capacity for making the world a better place. But for all these magnificent stories, none truly compares with the transformational power associated with THON. It is the power of oneness made real.

THON finds its humble origins in February 1973, when a group of Penn State students held a dance marathon in the HUB. That year, thirty-nine couples raised $2,000. In 1977, the dance marathon joined the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital in an explicit effort to conquer childhood cancer. And THON was born.

The Four Diamonds Fund was established by Charles and Irma Millard, whose son Christopher succumbed to cancer at age 14. Before he died, he composed a story in which a knight must locate the four diamonds of courage, wisdom, honesty, and strength in order to gain his freedom from an evil sorceress. For Christopher, these were the necessary traits for defeating the cancer that had plagued his young life. As its core mission, the Four Diamonds Fund provides families—regardless of need—with funding to offset the cost of cancer treatment, including housing and other expenses associated with keeping families together through this most difficult of times.

But that was merely the beginning. Over the years, THON has grown precipitously, with thousands of students engaging in a good-natured competition to earn a much-coveted spot on the dance floor of the Bryce Jordan Center.

Our Penn State Altoona students have been right there with them, selflessly giving of their time in order to support the victims of childhood cancer and their families.

And what a group they were. There's Megan Kay, whose sister once danced at THON, along with Cassie Greco, Matt Mattiuz, Mary Smurkowski, and Lara Ashley. Rounding out the group is Ian Hochberger, a Four Diamonds child himself. Now a cancer survivor, he was diagnosed at 22 months with neuroblastoma cancer.

Led by their steadfast advisor Dana Chestney, Penn State Altoona's THON contingent supports Collin Kratzer and Cole Horne. Kratzer was diagnosed with cancer at 16 months and celebrated his second birthday this past December; Horne is now 14 years old and cancer-free.

Our dancers joined the throng at the Bryce Jordan Center on February 18, excited and determined to see the forty-six-hour dance marathon to fruition. Joined by student organizations from across the University, they would lose themselves in the music, punctuated with heartrending stories from survivors and their families.

For our students, it had been a long road to THON 2011, with one event after another seeing them collect record numbers of donations. There was a powder puff football game, a fundraiser hosted by Friendly's, a letter-writing campaign, and our own Blue and White Ball. In one weekend back in October, our students raised more than $19,000 through "canning"—the relentless work associated with waiting outside of storefronts, raising awareness about childhood cancer, and soliciting donations. There was even a late-breaking flurry of donations from the Chancellor's Council and our Advisory Board that left our dancers believing that this might be the year in which a new record would be set in our local effort to thwart childhood cancer.

As our students danced at THON last month, they were determined to break our college's previous record of $70,105 in donations set back in 2009. They were there in the Bryce Jordan Center, shouting out "FTK!" (For the Kids!) with a cast of thousands in the grandstands, singing and dancing along with the masses.

And I was there too, beaming with pride for our students — for their hard work, their dedication, and their drive. They spent forty-six hours on their feet, totally focused on achieving their goal.

But it was during those last four hours when you could really feel the overwhelming emotional and physical power of THON. There was a synergy in the Bryce Jordan Center like I've never felt before. You could feel the emotion, the kinetic energy of the dancers in a common movement for a greater cause — a tapestry of color and sound.

When THON came to an end and our dancers earned their much-deserved rest, a new record had been set, with Penn State Altoona eclipsing the other campuses and earning $97,228. Thanks to our new record-setting total, the college will field at least six dancers in THON 2012. All told, THON 2011 earned more than $9.5 million in the fight against childhood cancer.

It is nothing short of the power of oneness when so many people come together to save and improve the lives of others. It truly takes your breath away.