What THON Means to Me
I’ll admit — and anyone who knows me can attest to this — I haven’t always been a huge fan of THON.
There isn’t a powerful enough adjective to describe the fact that Penn State students raise millions of dollars for the Four Diamonds Fund every year. Raising $10 million for childhood cancer research and support is something that is so unbelievably special and something that requires an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and love.
That being said, and I know it’s not the conventional wisdom, we can do better. THON has many problems that aren’t being fixed, because frankly, people are scared to talk negatively about THON. Someone once told me, “I hate THON the organization, but I love THON the cause.” Before everyone grabs their pitchforks and torches, let me just explain myself.
Although I am a sophomore, this weekend was my first time at THON. I watched from a distance last year, but this weekend, I wanted to experience it. I wanted to live it. I wanted THON to change my mind about the problems I perceived it to have. And so I didn’t leave the Bryce Jordan Center from 10 a.m. Friday until 6 p.m. Sunday.
I laughed, I cried, I danced, and I sang along with the best staff of 45 writers, editors, and photographers a guy could ever ask for. I was on the floor for the last 6 hours, and I jumped up and down and screamed when the total was announced just like everyone else. I wrote stories, I sent out Tweets, and I lived and breathed THON for 54 hours straight. I had an absolutely amazing time, and it was certainly very moving.
But I look at that sentence, and notice the key word. I – I had an amazing time. That’s a problem. I don’t matter at all, the dancers don’t matter, the THON Captains, Overalls, and committees don’t matter, Onward State doesn’t matter, and none of the 15,000 students in the building matter.
The kids matter.
We should not gloat about raising all this money, we should merely be thankful to have the opportunity to make a difference and hopefully that one day there won’t need to be a THON. But arrogance abounds.
Raising 10 million dollars is indeed something that Penn State should be very proud of, but at the end of the day, this isn’t about us at all. Not even a little bit. The true philanthropists are those who work to do good without seeking recognition. When I see people selling t-shirts with the THON total printed on the back and joining Facebook groups last year with the title “My school raised $9.56 million this weekend, what did yours do?” it upsets me.
This isn’t about you, this isn’t about me, this isn’t about us, this isn’t even really about Penn State — this is about all the kids whose lives that money changes. When people excessively gloat about THON, their true selfish intentions are revealed. My Twitter timeline and Facebook feed had no shortage of that type of content.
I hate that THON has turned into a popularity contest. From my perspective, the worst part of THON is right before the grand total is announced when the top ten organizations are recognized. It’s not about the organizations, it’s not about who raised more than someone else, it’s about the kids. Who raised the most money should be the last thing on anybody’s mind at that point.
I’ve heard stories of some organizations getting X-amount of dancers, while another organization has no dancers, simply because they didn’t raise enough money. Dancing has become a popularity contest, or a reward, in an event where personal accomplishments should be checked at the door.
The best part of THON is listening to the kids tell their stories and seeing them up on stage. It’s from those stories that we come to understand just what we’re fighting for, and from their joyful exuberance that we come to understand just who we’re fighting for. But rather than celebrating the children for 46 hours, we shoehorn them into specific times and sections of THON. If the event is truly “FTK,” then they should be front and center all weekend, not us. We should see the kids on stage more than bands meant to entertain the people in the seats or on the floor.
Much of the problem lies within the structure of THON itself. I think THON handles fundraising very poorly. They try to micromanage, and in the process, turn down money that would otherwise be going to the Four Diamonds Fund. There are countless examples of this, but one in particular is the downtown Quiznos. During the weekend of the cancelled canning trip, the owner tweeted that he would donate 15% of sales to THON. Within two hours, the tweets were deleted with a retraction. Since I was planning on stopping by, I asked the owner what happened. Nick told me that THON called him and demanded that he take down the tweet and said that he was not authorized to run a fundraiser. He said, “I understand there is a process for everything; however, I was just disappointed I couldn’t do more to help when we lost the canning weekend.”
Incidents like what happened at Quiznos should not happen, and from what I’ve been told, happen quite frequently. There is no reason–none–to force those who want nothing more than to help further the cause of THON to jump through hoops to do so. Every dollar in the final total is going to the best cause there is. To refuse to take someone’s money, because they didn’t think to jump over hurdles, is taking money away from some family who needs it, or some research project on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s anathema to the ideal THON sets forth, and there’s no place for bureaucratic nonsense in an organization like this.
It also upsets me that it takes a 46-hour dance marathon to get some people involved with THON and charity. Don’t get me wrong; there are so many genuine people involved with THON, including several very special people in this organization. But with every sincere person who joins THON, there is someone who joined because they wanted to hang out with their friends or for other selfish reasons.
There are the “milk and cookie” socials, drinking on canning trips with hot sorority chicks, and fundraisers-turned-ragers at frat houses. Trust me, there is no one who loves cookies, beer, and hot sorority chicks more than me. But there is a time and place for those indulgences, and that place is not THON.
There’s no problem with having fun at THON — I certainly did — I just ask this question: If the fundraising efforts of THON simply ended with someone handing over a check to the Four Diamonds Fund, with no fun marathon at the end or tangible way to show the world what we did, would student involvement be so high? I say no, and that’s a damn shame. The 46-hour marathon is necessary for the kids but it shouldn’t be necessary for us. We shouldn’t need to see Go Go Gadjet blast Party Rock Anthem for us to care.
One of the best things about THON weekend is the atmosphere of togetherness. It’s inspiring to see so many people working towards the same overall goal. But that seems limited to the event. THON hasn’t become an introduction to philanthropy, it’s become and end-all be-all for charitable involvement for many people. There are so many other groups on campus working for great causes: Relay for Life, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Red Cross, the Special Olympics, and the list goes on and on. Instead of largely ignoring them, we should apply the philanthropic efforts THON teaches us and use them in other aspects of our lives during the entire year. True philanthropists work to do good with no one watching and no recognition — I ask that everyone who considers THON their yearly contribution to society look inside themselves and ask questions about their own motives.
There’s a reason other charities don’t have the amount of student involvement that THON does, and it’s not because of the quality of the charity. We shouldn’t care if the national media covers THON. It doesn’t matter how many people are watching on the live stream. I don’t care about how cold you were on a canning trip. It doesn’t matter who raised the most money, how many dancers your organization has, who sent you the best dancer mail, or how much your feet hurt. All we should care about is how our actions affect kids in their times of need. Let’s switch the focus from us to them — let’s make it a 46-hour KID marathon instead of a 46-hour DANCE marathon.
Some people will say that none of these problems matter — that the ends justify the means. Some people will say that I shouldn’t complain after Penn State just raised $10 million. And maybe they’re right, to an extent. But it’s that attitude that keeps THON from being the best it can be, and there’s never a better time for change than right now. That attitude fosters the status quo and prevents the motions of change. I know some of you will comment with personal stories and anecdotes about how THON has changed your life or someone else’s life, and that’s fine. That doesn’t take away from the fact that there are improvements that can be made.
I’ve always subscribed to process-based thinking. If you do everything correctly on the way there, more times than not, you’ll get the result you want. We already have a great result; imagine what we could do if we addressed these problems. Be proud of Penn State and be proud of yourself, but compartmentalize that pride and understand that you shouldn’t be there for self-inflation. You may not agree with all my problems with THON, but you should also have the understanding to accept that we are both working towards the same goal and have ability to think critically and honestly about THON. There needs to be an open conversation, and right now, there’s not.
I just ask, all of us, look deep inside yourself this next year. THON is great, but THON is not perfect — not even close. It is our responsibility to make THON the best it can possibly be. Throughout my time here, THON has not been receptive to change. The people making the mistakes hide behind the “For the Kids” mantra, and push you off as being insensitive to the cause if you have problems with something THON does. That attitude needs to stop. Go into THON next year with a different attitude and a different perspective.
This thing we have here — this wonderful weekend every year where Penn State changes so many lives — the sky is truly the limit. We can get it there. I know we can. It just takes an open mind and a willingness to look at ourselves and make changes.
I think it’s a conversation worth having.
For the Kids. Forever and always. See you in 361 days.
384 Responses to “What THON Means to Me”« Older Comments
Something that i’ve noticed recently too is that a lot of people are talking about THON as if it was one weekend. Yes, the highlight of it is a weekend but thon goes on for more than that. Sadly, im sure there are a lot of students who just “think THON” during 4 weekends and Thon weekend. But i have a constant reminder when I see or chat with our sponsored family. It is giving that support throughout the whole year to a family that really shows what THON is. It isn’t about a “total to find a cure” its a total so kids who otherwise couldn’t pay for a treatment alone have the opportunity to even fight. But i’ll stick to what Socrates said “all i know is that i know nothing”.
i understand your opinions. what i dont understand is if THON wouldnt let quiznos or other places have traditional fundraisers, why cant they just donate the money anyway and not advertise it as a fundraiser. that seems to solve that problem.
Very well written and excellent points. Anyone who is offended by this is probably not the type of person he’s talking about. to many, thon is exacly about drinking with your friends and. boosting your resume.
I’m so glad you could spend so much time at THON. As a dancer, though, I can say that you still have much to learn about it. For example, the dance marathon – 46 hours, no sitting, no sleepin – is the closest I’ve ever come, and quite possibly the closest I will ever come, to experiencing the pain and fatigue that these kids and families live with daily. I didn’t dance for recognition, glory, or fun. I danced because I love my THON family and I am committed to their cause. I can also say that I would not have made it through THON without the support of the people in the BJC and the pick-me-up energy that bands like Go Go Gadjet provide. That said, I love having the kids and families on stage too.
As for your other comments, such a large organization requires structure. There must be some basis for choosing dancers and those in charge have deemed that basis to be monetary. If you are against it, consider providing a suggestion for another basis rather than telling those in authority that they need to do better. In addition, fundraising and soliciting are governed by laws by which THON must abide. Without proper paperwork and approval, the Quiznos downtown was not permited to raise funds, which is very understandable. If THON allowed the Quiznos to comtinue fundraising, consequences and sanctions may have resulted.
Those are my humble opinions.
Many? I would say a handful, which is still unfortunate, yes, but the majority of us THON for “good” reasons.
“I ask that everyone who considers THON their yearly contribution to society look inside themselves and ask questions about their own motives.” I ask you, Kevin Horne, what is wrong with someone putting all of their effort into this one cause because it is something they’re passionate about and have first hand experience on, whether through a family member or themselves. I agree with half of what you said, but as Dave H said, you still have much to learn and a lot of blaring, uninformed opinions for only a 20-something year old.
THON defense force is out in full force. It is nice to hear a different opinion and I think you have valid points. There is nothing wrong with having second thoughts about how things are run or appear.
I do agree with a lot of the points you made. The one thing that was not addressed is this THON unique as it became a rally point after the dark months leading up to it. Many, including myself, went a bit overboard trying to push back at the public and national media that we are not the evil like the people who are currently pending trial.
Uhmm what? I feel guilty about an emotional gain?? That doesnt even make sense.. I just think this article has no educated viewpoint. The writer has been to THON one time and has experienced it from one viewpoint. It does not give him enough credibility to write this article.
I think that defeats the purpose. A lot of community businesses hold these fundraisers as a way to bring traffic in so that the 20% they donate isn’t really a big loss, since they are getting more than their expected revenue. I don’t know of a lot of places that would just blindly turn in 20% of their regular sales. I don’t know much about it though, so maybe that’s inaccurate.
I don’t really understand the “it’s not about the total” argument. Wouldn’t you argue that raising a lot of money is also FTK, just not in a way that’s as tangible as water guns and BJC fashion shows?
It seems there is a disconnect between the goal of THON being to “raise money for pediatric cancer research” and to “provide a fun weekend where kids don’t have to think about their diagnosis”. I hear all the time that the total doesn’t matter. Why shouldn’t it? As much fun as the I’m sure the weekend and the events leading up to the weekend are, I think the total is also an important aspect. Emotional support and a break from treatment is important, but it’s not going to further the search to cure the disease.
If it really was just about the fun weekend, why the fundraising all year? The two are not mutually exclusive.
Dude, you nailed it. Way to come out and say something
i think it’s funny how you’re saying people are doing THON for all the wrong reasons when the only reason you wrote this article was to get attention. how about you take your own advise? it doesn’t matter that people look at it a little selfishly- i’m pretty sure if your organization raised the most money out of any other org on campus you’d want to brag about it. this friendly competition motivates students to go out and rasie money. they still have the kdis and mind and there’s no way they forget the cause they’re working towards. what’s wrong with that? you’re the selfish one
It took most of the enjoyment out of it, honestly. I felt it was better to make room for people who still felt passionate and really wanted to be there. I also had to cut down on my extracurricular commitments, and ended up going with things more related to academics/professional development.
This is a completely false statement. I’m not going to bash anybody’s opinion because everyone has a right to thier own opinions. But please, do not go around stating things as fact that are totally off-base.
The IFC President got a speeding ticket and published a self-centered tweet about it? Where is the “incident” here? What is “happening” at Penn State? Corruption of the administration at the highest level no doubt.
Really, you are going to compare your dancing in thon – that pain – to what a child with Cancer is going through – this is exactly the point he is making. N, you volunteered, and you can leave at anytime. You cannot understand nor compare having a kid with cancer as a parent, until you become a parent and have an ill child.
You continue to say I – and again, if the focus is the kids -then awareness is raised, but the focus is on the dancers with people there and an infrastructure to support them, those for morale and what not. If you need a morale person, after seeing a kid on stage with cancer, to stay awake a few more hours, then you have serious motivation issues.
As for the paperwork – the person from Quizno’s can simply say, a % of what I make during this time frame – I will donate to Thon – and see if his patronage goes up and he can make a contribution. Quiznos is acting on its own, so the consequences wouldn’t have been against THON, but Quizno’s.
I was involved in Thon while I was there, raising money, canning, and coordination leading up and during the event, and I spent a great deal of time with the families leading up to it in different events, and on THON weekend, my priority wasn’t what was going on at rec-hall, but rather making sure our kid and his family had fun, so whether it was waterguns, silly string, movies to watch during downtime, things to eat, or whatever, that they were the focus. On that point the author is completely right – it needs to be about them.
THON spends on things like new ladders every year, it is a bueracracy and it does waste money, and people will try to use it to build their resume or get in distinguished groups within penn state for recognition, which is done in all orgs and all charities, but overall, I believe THON does do an incredible amount of good, but to use it to say “hey media, look what we did this weekend,” you cheapen a good deed for others when you use it to try to simply redeem something else and here the author is right.
At first I was slightly intrigued to read this article. I too agree that there are some problems with the way THON opperates. Coming from someone who absolutely, positively LOVES THON and what the cause stands for, and someone who has danced, moraled, and been heavily involved with my organization’s THON family, I still do agree that there are some problems in THON. I agree that these problems are hard to talk about for fear of stepping on someones toes or fear of bashing those in higher positions. I believe THONs flaws should be talked about more openly, and those who run THON should constantly work on taking critisism and on improving THON, 365 days a year. However, these “problems” you speak of are not the problems that come to mind for me.
If there was no organized way to pick dancers, if there was no friendly competition, do you really think THON could raise 5 million let alone 10? I’m sure you say this doesn’t matter, but wouldn’t THE KIDS really like a couple extra million dollars to help them fight their battles? THON is so much more than 708 people standing for 46 hours for “recognition.” THON is like Christmas to those kids. Those kids have countdowns to THON, get to play with the “big kids” at THON, and get showered with attention and love. THON weekend allows a kid to be a kid again, to forget everything they’re going through that one weekend. THON brings smiles and hope to the Four Diamonds Families that could not simply be brought through writing a check.
It does matter if the national media covers THON. It does matter how many people are watching on the live stream. It does matter that Khloe Kardashian tweets about it. It matters because the more people that know about THON, the more we get the word out, and the more money we can raise FTK. The more money we can raise, the closer we come to finding a cure and the closer we get to ending the suffering of these children.
To me, THON is the best cause there is at Penn State, THAT is why 15,000 people are involved, not because they want recognition or they want to “get drunk with hot sorority girls.” Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, and if you don’t, seeing the bald head and smiling face of a Four Diamonds child the first time will definitely make you passionate about the cause. Let’s face it, we all hate cancer, and we hate it even more when it affects innocent children. That is why I back THON 100%. I back THON because 96% of funds raised goes DIRECTLY to THE KIDS. Can relay for life say that? I’d rather my 96 cents for over dollar go to a Four Diamonds child or to cancer research rather than paying a CEOs $1,000,000 salary at the American Cancer Society, where less than 40% of funds actually go to the charity. Special Olympics can only bost 80% of funds actually going the the kids.
Bottom line, THON isn’t perfect, but as a sophomore in college, you clearly still have a lot to learn. I truly hope that in the next two years you have left you can dig down deep and find the true meaning of THON. I hope you can take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, and understand that THON is a huge organization that raises over 10 MILLION dollars and must have certain rules in place to be able to run smoothly. To come on here and say that we are sellfish or do THON for recognition is stupid. To come on here and say we only do THON for “milk and cookie socials” or to get drunk on canning trips is stupid. Sorry many but we’re in college and there’s a lot easier ways to get drunk than exchanging it for a 3am shift at the BJC or giving up 46 hours of sleeping and sitting.
I invite you to return to THON next year, be on the floor for the last 4 hours, and take a look around. Look at that tough frat bro who is in tears during family hour or that pretty sorority girl who looks awful because she’s been on her feet for 44 hours. Look at that child squirting you in the face with a water gun, look at him grinning from ear to ear. Look at the passion, the unity that the cause brings to our wonderful Penn State community. Look at how appreciative the Four Diamonds Families are. Come back in 360 days and tell me you still feel that same.
Honestly after reading this, I feel sorry for you. I believe that you are someone who doesn’t understand THON and what it is all about. While some of your points are valid (THON can be a popularity contest at times, but everything in life is), you are so off base in many other areas. First and foremost, you talk about making THON a Kid’s Marathon and getting rid of the other live entertainment. I’m sure parents want to drive all the way to State College only to take their children off of their regular sleeping schedules to entertain the crowd at the BJC at 4 in the morning on any given day of THON. That makes total perfect sense. The kids are incorporated in the entertainment in the best possible way, with events like the Kids Variety Show, Family Hour, Kids Mail Call, etc etc.
Yes, I do agree that there are some people who do THON for the wrong reasons, but a VAST MAJORITY of THON volunteers do not fall into this category. If you think about it, why in the world would people stand out in the cold to collect money, go to a slew of meetings throughout the school year and even stand on their feet for 46 hours for one day of glory the day following THON? They wouldn’t. One day of recognition that follows after THON weekend is not the motivating force behind why we do what we do- the kids would be the primary purpose.
As a dancer this year, I was highly offended by this. I did not go all weekend without sitting or sleeping for the congratulations, the thank yous or to be able to say that I did this. I THONed last weekend, I stayed on my feet, for my THON families, for the baby angels who have already passed too soon and to show the kids that they are not alone. If I can take their pain and make it my own for the weekend, distract them in their fight against a horrible disease and plant a smile on their face, I will do just that- no matter what it takes. You also talk about what would happen, how many people would be involved, if THON weekend ceased to exist. Ask anyone in the THON community to describe THON and many will say something to this effect: it is a year-long effort to defeat pediatric cancer that CULMINATES in a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon. THON weekend is not for us. THON weekend certainly brings joy to our lives and illuminates Penn State, but it is 100% for the kids. So yes, if THON weekend ever went away, I think Penn Staters would still be involved. We always say that there will come a day when THON weekend will be unnecessary, but when that day comes we will STILL dance in celebration.
Lastly, don’t you dare say that THON volunteers use THON as their way to help others and then revert back to their every day lives, forgetting about other causes and philanthropies. THON is something that is so university-wide. Look at the money that was raised for PSU RAINN this year, I guarantee with all of the THON volunteers on campus that a good portion of that money was raised by THON volunteers. Then you talk about Relay for Life. I’m assuming you didn’t go to Relay last year because you’re only a sophomore and you didn’t even attend THON your freshman year, but let me tell you something about Relay for Life. I was a team captain for Relay last year and my team was comprised of people that had been on my THON committee. A large portion of committees make Relay teams and participate in Relay every April. As a Penn State senior, I can say that I have participated in Relay with my close THON friends every year of my Penn State experience. Don’t even get me started on your mention of the Red Cross. Were you aware that the Student Red Cross Club has 4 dancers in THON every year? They also have two THON families and we both know their philantrophic work does not end after THON does.
As a sophomore, you have a lot to learn and it’s a disgrace that Onward State allowed someone who has spent such a tiny amount of time at this event discuss it like you know what you’re talking about. As a senior (or even a sophomore who actually attended THON as a freshman) I might cut you a little more slack here, but your THON experience is too trivial for my liking. Also, next time you want to write an opinion column attacking something that brings so much joy to so many people, don’t make the column’s title deceiving. Here I actually thought I was going to read about someone talking about a phenomenal weekend, when all I saw was a post attacking a philanthropy that displays the core values of what it means to be a Penn Stater: loyalty, love, dedication and service. Shame on you.
This article and viewpoint is valid and obviously every person has a right to his or own opinion. However, I think that it is also extremely important to remember that as much as you, and i’m sure other people as well, do not agree with the competitive nature of the fundraising, competition is a driving force for success in today’s society. As great as it would be to have every single organization raise as much money as they possibly could without any shred of competitiveness, it is just not very plausible. I think that you have to take a step back and look at our culture as a whole. Competition spurs success in so most areas of our society, and THON and other large charities are no different.
no one was being attacked, and just because someone’s only experienced one year of thon doesn’t mean they haven’t accurately observed its flaws
way to go Kellie.
I think your response feeds in to the cult like feeling of thon. He has an objective view, gave it a fair try, went all weekend with a clean slate. you as a senior and dancer have a very subjective view. He acknowledges the great things about thon. He love it, cried, laughed. But there’s no denying if you don’t stay for the finale theres almost no feeling of ftk, at least not in the stands. I think while he may have offended some people there is much validity in what he said. What thon does is great but the self satisfaction is gross. Some people like you may be in it for the right reasons but most clearly are brainwashed
Gee…It wasn’t as if he reported the early demise of JoePa without confirmation…He’s an editor writing a piece to stimulate thought about something. That’s his job. Part of the college experience is learning to take critcism in and OUT of the classroom. Kinda like the stuff that happens when you become gainfully employed and have a performance review….you absolutely won’t like everything the reviewer may have to say, but it certainly can be an opprotunity for change. Minds are like a parachute…they only work when they’re open.
I don’t see the harm in being proud of accomplishments or having a good time at THON. Sorry, but when all of my hard work to raise money throughout the year FTK culminates with everyone else’s into a total of $10.5K, I’m not going to sit back and say, “Oh wow, that’s so great,” and leave it at that. The organizations that raise the most money deserve to be recognized and celebrate their accomplishments, because newflash: they worked really hard to get there.
Furthermore, if you want to get really technical, there is no such thing as a purely selfless act, it doesn’t exist. But I think THON gets pretty damn close.
I’m not saying this kid doesn’t have a right to express his views on THON, but a lot of the “points” he makes have very simple counterarguments that end the “honest conversation.” Kevin makes it seem like the Overall Committee and anyone else in THON has been sitting on their asses for the past year, oblivious to the issues which need solving or addressing; they love THON, and the most important part about loving something is being able to admit it has flaws because then you can strive to make it better. What Kevin might think is a problem that needs immediate fixing could very well be something that is in the process of being fixed/addressed. This is why people are encouraging him to have waited to make the extreme comments he made with this story; with more experience and exposure to THON beyond the weekend event, someone gets a better undestanding for just how an organization works, and his criticisms could have been that much more constructive. I would be quite moronic if I went to a foreign country (which is an extreme example) and started criticizing the things I didn’t understand.
Also, Kevin, I’d be careful about what you post on Twitter… with every sarcastic or disparaging comment you tweet, you’re basically negating your arguments made here on Onward State with an extreme lack of professionalism. Aside from the JoePa slip-up, Onward State has done a great job with reporting, and the whole organization doesn’t deserve to have its reputation tarnished by you.
WHY DO YOU HATE KIDS WITH CANCER?!?!?!?!?!
great you were at THON for 54 hours. Fundraising started September 30. These organizations are in communication and planning events with their families all year round. That is where you see the true effect of THON, the true emotional and financial support. Where were you for that?
10.5 million not K
I agree with Kellie 100%. Fantastic response.
KDR had 2 drunk brothers at THON and the only punishment they recieved was having their floor passes taken away. A SLAP ON THE PROVERBIAL WRIST!
There are a lot of douchers that do THON because they are forced to more or less. It is hard to generalize and judge people’s intentions.
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