by Molly Ligon

The THON™ Community came together to remember all of those who we remember in our hearts at the first annual THON Remembrance Tree Candlelight Vigil. The event took place on Thursday, November 10th at the Arboretum where members of the THON Community could come at any time to walk through the vigil and see the newly dedicated tree. 

Bereaved Family Contact Captains (BFCs), Anne Noe, Dominik Nitecki, and Emily Lutz began their planning in the spring after they were chosen for their positions as BFCs. The idea behind the Remembrance Tree was to have an event in the fall to honor those who we remember in our hearts. Their intention for the event was to create a serene and safe space that will always be there for their bereaved families when they visit Penn State. 

“The plaque isn’t going anywhere. The tree isn’t going anywhere so people can come and visit and take the time that they need whenever they feel like they need to,” said Nitecki. 

The tree itself has beautiful symbolism, as the captains described it as a representation of carrying on the memories of the children. “The tree regrows each year and new THON volunteers continue to carry on the memories of these children each year,” said Nitecki. “I think it’s a big symbolic side that the tree and the garden around it represent each year of stories of THON Volunteers that continue to grow and change as new generations of Penn State students come through.”

For the event itself, the Bereaved Family Contact Captains chose to, “do colored vigil bags because they brought a different feeling to the event,” said Noe. “We wanted it to be different and light. We also made the pictures of each child bigger so that people could see it as they were walking by and put their birthdate and their date of passing on there so people could recognize that too. The event turned out to be so beautiful for all of THON to come together for this.”

The event was a success, Noe noting that, “it was so incredible to see so many people come within even the first thirty minutes. Because this event was open to the public, we had so many people who came who were already at the Arboretum and you could see the impact on them, so it was so incredible to be able to do that for other people.”

“Just being outside gave a different environment,” said Lutz. “You could see each person taking in each individual vigil bag and the scenery around them. There were just a lot of special moments that I think it being outside allowed for people to connect with nature and the emotions that it brought them. It was awesome for us to be able to provide a safe environment for people to feel comfortable with their emotions and feel how they were feeling in that moment.”

The Bereaved Family Contact Captains have mentioned what makes this specific event especially unique, as well as the tree itself: the tree is something that stays up forever, allowing for the general public to be able to honor those who we remember in our hearts year-round. Please feel free to visit the Owl Reading Circle in the Arboretum and see the tree at your own pace.