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Freshman 101: Your First THON

THON can be overwhelming.

Everyone on campus this week seems to be talking about it, or worrying about it, or maybe even dreading it. Whether you’re excited for your first THON or still just trying to figure out what this thing is all about, here’s what you should know to make your life a little easier this weekend.

The Basics

If you haven’t already been inundated by THON’s campus takeover, the organization’s primary annual event is THON Weekend, a 46-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon. THON will take over the Bryce Jordan Center from 6 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday, and anyone can attend and hang out in the stands for free.

Just to be clear, the “dancers” don’t need to be truly dancing the whole time, but they do need to stay awake and on their feet. More than 700 dancers will take over the floor of the BJC this year as the event concludes year-round fundraising for Four Diamonds, benefiting pediatric cancer treatment and research. Dancing is considered an honor and a privilege in THON circles, but good luck explaining this when your grandma calls to ask how in the world you stayed up for 46 hours. Non-Penn State parents or family members usually don’t quite ~get it~.

THON boasts 16,000-plus student volunteers, from student organizations to committee members to the executive director, who make it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

The Line Dance

The Line Dance is a routine specially curated by THON’s Dancer Relations committee that mashes up a bunch of different songs with verses about everything that has happened in the past year (Penn State things, general news, and pop culture), a chorus about THON, and a kickin’ dance break. It’s performed an average of once per hour throughout THON Weekend (yes, 46 times), and you should make every effort to learn it by the end. After all, you’re a captive audience in the stands. What else do you have to do?

Theme Hours

THON is 46 hours long, and many of these hours have designated themes like “Greek hour” that keep things interesting for dancers and spectators alike, even in the middle of the night when there’s not much else going on. Usually you won’t know which it is, but know that there is usually some sort of theme going on nonetheless.

Pep Rally

The Pep Rally is one of THON’s premier events, and is essentially a competition between Penn State Athletics teams to see who can put on the best performance and hype up the crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center. The men’s gymnastics team is the two-time reigning champion of the competition, so THON 2019 will be the team’s opportunity to make it a three-peat.

The Final Four

The Bryce Jordan Center hits capacity like clockwork hours ahead of the Final Four. Much like the name suggests, these are the final four hours of THON, from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. This is an especially emotional time when the THON families in attendance are introduced and a handful tell the stories of their journeys with Four Diamonds and battles against pediatric cancer. When the Celebration of Life video plays to honor those who are no longer with us, there’s not a dry eye in the arena. It doesn’t help that most everyone in the BJC is sleep-deprived by this point in the weekend.

For the past decade, Go Go Gadjet has closed out the final hour with a larger-than-life performance, but the band announced it’s passing the baton off this year, so I really can’t tell you what to expect for that hour. THON culminates in the dancers finally sitting on the floor of the BJC to take in the year’s fundraising total reveal.

Tips & Tricks

  • Don’t sit down. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you even try, you’ll be reprimanded by THON’s R&R committee members.
  • Bring (and leave at home) the right things. You can find more about that on our THON gear guide.
  • Learn the line dance. Nobody’s too cool for it. Not even you, Chad.
  • Know how to talk to dancers. If you’re not sure what you should or shouldn’t say, we have a guide to that too.
  • Learn the lingo. Well…just try your best.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a senior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.


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