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Maggie Neese

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A Memorable Year for Penn State

Posted: 02/21/2012 11:37 am

In the past months, Penn State has lived through history that will never be forgotten. The university was under high scrutiny and is still in the midst of investigating Jerry Sandusky and his alleged crimes. On another hand, we watched Joe Paterno win his 409th football game, face the end of his football career and, sadly, had to pay our final respects to this legend when he passed on.

2011-2012 will certainly be remembered as a famous and an infamous year for all those who hold Penn State close to their hearts. If the outside world has learned nothing else about Penn State recently, it must be clear to them how strong the students, faculty and staff of this university truly are.

When faced with the trials of this year, the community has rallied. We have seen several candlelight vigils in moments of sadness, attended by thousands upon thousands of students showing their support. We have seen student initiatives to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer, a cause close to the hearts of many. This community has taken it upon themselves to show that we truly do bleed blue and white.

This year is memorable for another reason -- The Penn State Dance Marathon, affectionately known as THON, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. THON is a yearlong fundraising and awareness effort to provide support to The Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Medical Center and the families that it aids.

THON is guided by the principles of courage, hope, wisdom and strength. The children fighting pediatric cancer every day embody these traits and have taught many Penn State students what it means to fight for a cause bigger than any individual. These small children fight every day, and THON does everything in its power to make it so they can worry less about the fight and more about living their childhood.

Due to dangerous weather conditions, one of four canister solicitation weekends -- a fundraising effort where students travel to stand outside and ask for donations -- was cancelled in January. Although this was disappointing for students, THON volunteers took this challenge in stride, acting with determination. Students began promoting fundraising via social media and online donations to help compensate for the missed canning weekend. The inspiration and dedication displayed by these students shows how strong the passion at Penn State truly is.

Joe Paterno said it best at his last appearance at THON 2009. He said, "When they say, 'We Are Penn State,' this is what they are talking about." The Paterno family has always been a strong supporter of THON. After Joe's passing in late January, the Paterno family asked for donations to be made to The Special Olympics of Pennsylvania and THON in lieu of flowers.

From Feb. 17-19, the Bryce Jordan Center hosted the 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon, known as THON Weekend. More than 700 dancers stood on their feet, never sleeping, fighting for this cause. More than 15,000 volunteers were there, supporting both the dancers and the Four Diamonds families. For the children fighting pediatric cancer, this weekend has been explained as "better than Christmas." Here, they had the chance to forget their pains and just be children for the weekend.

THON Weekend is a rainbow of colors and something that is difficult to describe to those who have not experienced it themselves. The intensity, determination, love and hope filling the room engulfs everyone involved and joins together thousands upon thousands of people who have never even had the chance to meet. Penn State unites, creating a weekend that can only begin to be understood as unique and magical.

While the student presence is strong, is it is the children who are the true stars -- they are the entire reason for the celebration. These children battling cancer teach us more in one weekend than many people learn in a lifetime. The strength you see in the tiny bodies, the wisdom beyond their years that they exude when they comfort their families and put smiles on all our faces, the courage you see in their eyes, the obvious strength of someone fighting something so difficult, yet playing like any other child and finally the love that these children, siblings and parents share with us all year culminate in an intense feeling that touches everyone in the arena THON Weekend.

No matter if $100 or $10,000,000 was raised, THON will always be a success if the families of The Four Diamonds fund received the emotional and financial support we strived to provide.

We dance so that one day we won't have to anymore. Let's make THON's 40th anniversary a defining moment for Penn State.