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THON 2021 Provided The Hope Penn State Students Needed

This year’s THON was quite different in many ways more than one.

Instead of unifying in the Bryce Jordan Center, thousands of students, volunteers, and alumni plopped down in front of their computers to watch THON, looking at a nearly empty arena which at this time last year housed more than 16,000 people happy to be supporting the fight against pediatric cancer.

However, after reflecting on THON 2021, I realized how much more THON is than where it takes place or how much money it raises. It’s about bringing positivity — even just for 46 hours — to people when times are rough.

Leading up to last weekend, I was emotional thinking about how much I wished to go back in time to 2020’s THON Weekend when I was the happiest I’d been during my short time at Penn State. When it was announced that Penn State students would be finishing the spring 2020 semester remotely, I was heartbroken. I was so proud of how far I’d come to finally be happy in State College.

It’s no secret that this last year has been hell. About 500,000 people in the country have now died from COVID-19, and with numbers like that, it feels hard at times to find the positives in life.

I know I’m not alone when I say that this pandemic has caused plenty of mental health struggles for me. My anxiety and depression have only been heightened in the last 11 months, especially when an old friend of mine died on Christmas Eve nearly two months ago. Still grieving her loss on top of dealing with my mental health issues, I wasn’t looking forward to THON 2021.

How could it possibly change my mindset? Even though my involvement in THON is limited to covering it for Onward State, it was the positive thing I needed to pull me out of my funk.

Now, I’m not saying that before the THON 2021 Weekend that I didn’t know how much of an impact THON could have. Like most things in the last year, I didn’t realize how much of an effect it would have on me during these unprecedented times.

Although it’s so annoying at this point to say, “Despite THON 2021 being virtual, it was still just as impactful,” it’s absolutely true. First off, THON raised more than $10.6 million all For The Kids…in the middle of a pandemic. That alone goes to show that there is good in humanity, despite people enduring hardships over the last year.

Also, huge props to the THON 2021 executive committee, which already had a hard enough task of putting together the world’s largest student-run philanthropy. It wasn’t easy or perfect, but it was so much better compared to what it could’ve been.

THON 2021 was what we, as Penn Staters, needed, especially coming up on the one-year mark of going into lockdown. THON represents so much hope that there are people who want to make a difference in others’ lives.

One of my favorite moments from this past weekend came during Family Hour. Ashley Akright, the sister of former THON child, Nicholas Akright, said it best when she talked about the difference between this year’s THON as opposed to previous ones:

“THON doesn’t live in a building,” Ashley said. “Instead of seeing this year as something that’s making THON less intimate or less impactful, use it as an opportunity that we can reach more people.”

A lot of the focus on THON 2021 was how different it was going to be because of the virtual setting. But what it should’ve been about was what Ashley said: how much it could reach more people.

There have been so many moments throughout the last year where I’ve thought about all of the stuff Penn State students are missing out on. It’s hard not to view our current Penn State experiences as less eventful compared to the one we knew before the pandemic.

If there’s anything 2020 taught us, it’s to appreciate the people in your life and look for the joy in the ordinary things. Although, there are, of course, days where things look bleak. But, this year’s THON restored some hope for me that better days are ahead.

When I closed my laptop after the Final Four came to a close and the total was revealed, I walked away feeling more hopeful than I did going into the weekend. It instilled some faith that, eventually, things will go back to some form of normalcy.

I can’t wait.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Mackenzie is a junior majoring in English and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She is from Minersville, PA, and is always trying to explain exactly where that is. Send all compliments to [email protected] or @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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