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Nittany Lion Spotlight: THON and The Four Diamonds Fund

THON 2010
THON 2010

THON 2010 came and went this past weekend, and to nobody's surprise, records were shattered, hearts were touched, and millions were affected. Like fine wine and women, THON only gets better with age. That is why this week's Nittany Lion Spotlight is not on any one THONer, or any person remotely associated with the Four Diamonds Fund, but rather the entire event itself.

I was going to put a brief history of THON here, but then two things came to my mind: 1) if you're visiting the most populous PSU blog and you don't know what THON is, something is askew and you need more than a brief introduction; and 2) the people at THON have said it better than I ever could:

In 1973, a small group of dedicated Penn State students held our first Dance Marathon. That year, 34 dancers participated and raised $2,000. Since then, THON’s presence in the Penn State community has grown exponentially. THON now has 15,000 student volunteers, 700 dancers, and has raised more than $61 million, benefiting The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

THON is now a year-long effort that raises funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer. With the support of students from all across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and THON Alumni all around the world, we continue to make great strides towards finding a cure for all childhood cancers!

"When they say, ‘We Are Penn State,’ this is what they are talking about." - Joe Paterno

You've all seen the ubiquitous canners with their white placard signs, change filled cans, and smiles through frozen faces. You've probably given some time and effort yourself, be it through the Greek system during your time at Penn State, through a different organization associated with THON, or merely by dropping whatever you had into those cans. Later on that night you might wish you had that $10 you dropped when its last call and the guy/girl you're flirting with is reaching for his/her coat and you need that last nightcap to close the deal. However, for one weekend in February, all of that goes away and the world seems a little smaller when you realize just what one university can do. Don't believe me? Meet Tucker Haas.

THON isn't being recognized around the world for its Penn State roots, nor is it as acclaimed as it is because they raise a truckload of money. THON is what it is because of the people behind the scenes and the faces of the children and parent's whose lives are touched. Many charities around the world raise money for worthwhile causes, and they are all fantastic organizations. What sets this organization apart is the fact that it is the largest student run philanthropy in the world and the earnings power has only gone up. Allow me to rephrase to emphasize the severity of the statement - in a world where global economies are crumbling, where cities are being decimated by unemployment, where national sentiments are at extreme lows regarding the financial state of the union, one organization in the middle of farm country has continually exceeded previous earnings and has now raised over $70 million for pediatric cancer research.

With the advent of celebrity endorsements (the word celebrity is a stretch here, but when people like Perez Hilton and Khloe Kardashian do stuff like this, I'll applaud) this year, some argue that the PSU version of THON may peak soon. Bring in the professionals, let this thing go worldwide, they say. I disagree (and strenuously object). THON is a Penn State institution and should remain as such. Sure, the voices of an Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah Winfrey would reach many more ears than the current reach of THON. And to be sure, I'm all for raising as much money as is humanly possible to fight pediatric cancer. I just don't see the two as being mutually exclusive. This thing is growing, and the sky is the limit. THON has outgrown two buildings and has gone from a small, 30-person dance event to a 46 hour bender of emotion and hope that is already being broadcast worldwide. Part of the appeal is the Penn State name being attached to the outstanding cause. I cannot count how many people would put money in my can simply because the sign said Penn State and I was wearing a PSU hat. And I'm OK with that - that money went to the same spot as the corporate checks being raised by some fraternities. What you lose by taking this event national is the personal touch, and that is what makes this whole thing so damn special.

In closing, two facts were reported on Penn State Live that bear repeating, and I dare you to read them without getting chills. First, in 2004, THON pledged to donate $10 million dollars total over the next 6 years for a pediatric cancer center at Penn State Hershey. This seemed like a safe bet, as THON had been financially sound for some time. By 2010, the time the check came due, THON had raised NEARLY FOUR TIMES their pledged amount, bringing in almost $39 million dollars. Secondly, and the reason why THON is so damn awesome, since the creation of the Four Diamonds Fund in 1972, some pediatric cancer survival rates have increased to 90 percent, thanks to the continued support for pediatric cancer research.

For The Kids!