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THON 2015 Wasn’t Record-Breaking, And That’s Fine

While being a part of an organization that writes 150 stories about THON in one weekend technically makes me involved with it, I don’t consider myself a part of THON like the normal student does. I gave regular involvement a shot freshman year like most do, but a few of these reasons kept me from devotion. Since then, I think I’ve been able to see THON from a one-foot-in, one-foot-out perspective for the majority of my time here.

So I’ve often fell pensive about some random speculative conversations I’ve had here, with both THON-ers and non-THON-ers, about a topic everyone has considered at one point or another: What if THON failed to break its record one of these years? I’ve heard a spectrum of thoughts during these conversations, some more realistic than others. Would incredulity engulf the BJC? Would the place go crazy regardless? Would THON lie about the total for posterity? Would the Finance Director make an emergency dial to Terry Pegula at 3 p.m. Sunday and ask for an extra million?

After increasing its annual total by almost $4 million since I came to Penn State, the THON 2015 number finally dropped by $300,000 (about 3 percent) from 2014 to 2015. It was shocking. While everyone’s considered it, especially in those moments before the cards are flipped, it just didn’t seem truly possible. I did a triple take to assure that the third digit was a 0 and not an 8 before I published our post. The reaction from the rest of the building was similar to mine for some, I’d imagine, though still boisterous — THON applauded, screamed, jumped, and hugged — it was of noticeably lesser intensity compared to THON 2014.

And, guys! That’s to be expected! Don’t feel bad if your first reaction was disappointment, seriously. For the students in the BJC that work year-round for the Four Diamonds Fund, breaking the record is a perfectly reasonable goal, especially since it’s been broken every year since 2004. That is the very nature of goal-making. To still celebrate with a bit of disappointment when you saw the final placard raise is normal.

Now, for a moment, consider how much money the 2015 total of $13,026,653.23 is. Like, seriously, step back from this post for a moment and think about what you could buy with $13 million. Moreover, think about how many lives you could save. This community is so familiar with those eight-digit totals by now that we’ve internalized the figures and sometimes forget how unbelievable it is that college students can come together to raise that much. The lives saved and helped by totals like that are countless, and it should be a source of responsible pride for everyone involved.

And that’s the point — the total is unrealistically high to continue breaking year after year. From the moment the 2014 cards were flipped to reveal a slightly higher total of $13,343,517.33, it was evident that a plateau was coming. It was clear that at some point in the coming years, unless the Finance Director literally called up Terry Pegula and asked for more, the THON total was going to stop rising eventually. It’s just not mathematically feasible. Many of THON’s donors give the same amount every year. Canning trips can be wildly unpredictable. And to break a total of $13,343,517.33 in 2015, the 15,000-odd students who fundraise would have to each raise about $900. Students are lucky to make $900 for themselves with a part-time job in this town.

Breaking the prior year’s total is a fine goal, but only if tempered by the expectation that it is becoming more and more difficult as the totals continue to rise. I’d need the help of a stat major to attempt a prediction at the value of that plateau, but reason tells me we are there. I’m not encouraging anyone to set more modest goals and I’m certainly not predicting that THON won’t crack $14 million next year or $20 million in 2020. We should just utilize perspective when handling numbers this gigantic. That said, I’ve always been of the mind that we should reap motivation from goals not realized. For the like-minded in THON, perhaps a slightly lower total is a net positive for the gains it’ll see down the road.

Because of lesser totals that came before this year’s, the Four Diamonds Fund has never had to turn a family away. Even if the total went down again next year, the same could be said. It remains a mind-blowing reality to raise tens of millions for children with cancer every year, and not one person involved with that should hang their head.

About the Author

Tim Gilbert

Former Managing Editor of this site, now just makes lots of #content for it from the Phyrst’s Table 69. Senior from Philadelphia. First-generation Penn Stater. I might go to law school after this, but I might not, too. “For the Glory” is in my email signature because I’m a douche. [email protected] is my email if you want to tell me why I suck. Alternatively, you can call me out on Twitter @OlGilb.

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