The class of 2022; a class that has seen the progression of Penn State unlike any other as they lived and attended school during the evolution of a global pandemic. Through an unexpected crisis, they saw Penn State and Penn State THON™ in ways that one could have never guessed. Through it all, the class of 2022 remained strong in their resilience and their love for THON.
Look back with five members of the class of 2022, all attending the same 46-hour event, all with different stories. These graduates were asked the first word or phrase they thought about when hearing “THON”, the responses consisted of “community”, “feel good”, “making a difference”, “family”, and “something bigger than yourself.”
In talking to the 2022 graduates, one would have never guessed the adversity they faced throughout the pandemic, as their conversations of their time with Penn State THON™ were inspiring and filled with exuberance. These students were imperative to the successes of THON, but found THON was just as imperative for their college experience.
We threw these new alumni back to their first THON™. When talking to McKenna Border, she said her first THON in 2019, “was the most magical place ever. [She] had goosebumps the whole weekend and loved every second of it. It amazed [her] how much Penn State came together fighting for one cause.” Border has been involved with special interest organization Ohana since her freshman year (2018), starting as a general org member, moving to a leadership member, then fundraising executive chair, and finished out her time as the president of Ohana. Another one of the grads, Beth Powderly, spent her four years at Penn State on Club Cross Country, and was one of their THON 2022 dancers. She also was a committee member for both Rules and Regulations and Donor and Alumni Relations. Remembering her first experience, she said, “I stood in the stands that weekend with Club XC and it was amazing! It was so cool to see so many different groups all fundraising for this cause. I knew I wanted to get more involved after that year.” Lindsay Czekaj had a similar experience as she talked about how she, “attended [her] first THON in 2020 during [her] sophomore year just as a spectator with [her] roommate who was on a committee. The atmosphere in the BJC was full of energy and excitement and [she] knew that [she] wanted to be a part of it.” Czekaj was on a Donor and Alumni relations committee for 2 years, and the Primary THON chair and then president of the Phi Eta Sigma honor society.
There were many memorable moments from these grads’ first THON™. Morgan Adams was a member of the fraternity Acacia from his second semester freshman year to his first semester sophomore year (2019), and finished his time at Penn State as an independent spectator. He recalled how, “the last four hours made it worth it. Also seeing guys that you would never expect to start crying, cry, and showing such strong emotion, it really highlighted the impact of those 46 hours.” The Final Four was also the most memorable moment for Will Koziel’s first THON. While reminiscing about it he said, “I really enjoyed the family stories during Final Four, I thought they were really impactful and you could understand how the families react to having a kid with cancer, and then being able to have the support from THON. It just actually showed what THON does for families.” Koziel was a Dancer Relations Committee Member his freshman through junior year (2018-2021), a Donor and Alumni Relations Committee Member his senior year (2021-2022), and a member of Special Interest Organization Axis all four years–ending his tenure as both the Public Relations Chair and one of the THON 2022 dancers.
This class saw Penn State THON pivot during a pandemic. Most went from two years of an in-person THON™, to a shifted virtual one, all to end their final year back in the Bryce Jordan Center. When talking to Czekaj she remarked, “At first it felt sad that THON would be virtual but […] the THON community was able to make the same difference as it has every other year even with it being virtual. Having the physical representation of the thousands of volunteers, families, and spectators this year made the impact stand out even more to me. I felt more connected when I was able to put my love, sweat, and tears into it at the BJC alongside everyone else.” Finalizing their time at the BJC, “being back in person was the most surreal feeling” said Border. “It was incredible to see all of our hard work throughout the year payoff and all be together again during such memorable times.”
The last THON™ for these alumni were impactful in different ways. Both dancers reminisced about how they were honored to be able to dance for their organizations and their families. “It was a full circle moment to be back in the BJC” said Powderly. For Koziel, “Seeing the final total at the end, and it being the biggest total to date was really emotional, because it shows all the hard work the students put in throughout the year to reach that goal.” For Czekaj, when talking about her last THON she commented, “My last THON was an unforgettable experience. The energy in the BJC is electric and something that I still can’t describe to people when they ask me what it’s like. I ran around for three days with a group of people that I developed a very close relationship with and made an immense difference in the life of children and their families affected by childhood cancer.”
Just as Penn State THON™ will miss these grads, these grads will miss THON. Adams talked about how he will miss “the lives that we change and the children we make happy and being a part of that.” So many of these graduates talked about the people they met and how it was incredible to find so many great friends. Border vocalized that, “THON has impacted me in a million different ways. It has changed my perspective on life and made me realize just how lucky I have it. It has inspired me in ways I would’ve never thought and has given me the best group of friends and support system. I was also able to meet some of the most amazing, inspiring individuals, even some as young as five years old.”
After speaking about the retrospective, I asked about the prospective vision of THON™ and its expansion. Powderly responded with her hopes “that THON continues to become more inclusive. [She] would love to see a point where everyone at Penn State feels welcome and excited to be a part of THON.” Koziel sees more involvement as well, as he said, “I can see further down the line a lot more students being involved, more than just the 16,000 we have now. I hope that happens because I think everyone should be able to experience THON. I also see a lot more families getting helped with increased donations year after year.”
The class of 2022, all with different anecdotes, different recollections, different affiliations, different views, but all one under the Penn State THON Family. Thank you for all that you have done for the Penn State community. From all of Penn State THON to the class of ‘22, we wish you nothing but the best and know you all will make our community proud.