Watching a movie with my roommates, and the phone rings. Once, twice, maybe three times before I dash over the coffee table, across the living room, and into my bedroom. This was the very moment I had been waiting for, and I found myself speechless, heart pounding, mind racing. What have I gotten myself into?
This was the day that my world was flipped upside down and 15 new best friends were introduced into my life. When that phone call ended with Megan Renaut I had no idea what had just happened. I was simply rushed to Old Main to meet the THON 2015 Executive Committee, and this is where it started. This is where the crazy nights, mix of emotion, and all out madness started.
I was scared, honestly scared that I was not prepared or qualified to lead the OPPerations Committee. 21 Captains and 770 Committee Members - how the hell was I going to lead this group of people? But somehow it was okay, or at least I told myself that, because all 15 of us were scared beyond belief of the responsibility we were just handed. One phone call determined our year, one phone call (or three if your phone doesn't quite work right, namely Chrissy) changed my life. I have honestly been holding out on writing this blog post for about 300 days because I had no idea how to sum up my thoughts and emotions for this year's Executive Committee. It has been the whirlwind of a lifetime with these crazy kids, and I think it's taken me this long to finally come up with any words to do THON 2015 justice.
If you're a Penn Stater or perhaps not, you know THON is a culture. It is not one event that is put on every year in February, but rather THON is a way of living, it's a never ending path of hope, and together we fight every day for these kids and their families. THON is a full year effort starting in March when the next group of individuals are selected with dreams and visions of changing the world. To most, they probably see us as a bunch of crazy kids, but in the words of Steve Jobs, we are all striving to "put a ding in the universe."
Sixteen individuals. Sixteen leaders. Sixteen passionate hearts.
From the moment we were selected to lead THON 2015, we hit the ground running. The spring semester was full of learning our positions - or trying our very best to grasp all that we were responsible for - and meeting one another. It makes me smile now thinking back to our first interaction on the Old Main steps because I knew one person. From four years experience, I knew one person of the fifteen individuals standing in front of me awkwardly terrified in our own way. As spring flashed by, I was off to Rome, one to Seattle, one to camp, some in State College, and just like that, we were on our own again. Amongst all else that I was concerned with in Rome, now I had to try and communicate and plan two major events in a different country. Between Cory (Seattle) and I, we were 9 hours and 9 timezones apart trying to plan meetings. Needless to say, I don't think I saw Cory once on Google Hangout while I was in Rome. Caroline and I, on the other hand, were supposed to be planning the THON 5K and Family Carnival, but unfortunately due to some unforeseen complications, one of us didn't have internet and one of us was running up our phone bill in Italy with all of the data charges. Again planning put on hold.
As we neared the end of summer and all of us were finally reunited one week before school started, it seems like that's when we started to become a family. There were already hardships we faced coming into the fall semester, but we knew together we could accomplish anything. Quickly our year did a 180 and we found out that our two main pre-THON events would be two weeks apart from one another in November. Shock is probably the best term to use when I found out this news. Disbelief would also suffice. Nonetheless, the 16 of us accepted this news with a smile and hearts pounding. We had two months to prepare and the clock was ticking.
From our first event at 5a.m., setting up the 5K to watching the logo banner fall at Family Carnival and practically forgetting to unzip my jacket because I was terrified the whole thing would fall to the ground, we grew exponentially. The sixteen of us disagreed on certain issues, we had our Committee interests in mind, and we were leading in our own ways. But amongst all else, we were a family. There are moments like the Homecoming Parade that I will never forget because that was one day we could fully relax. Take a step back from the hardships of event planning and relationship building and fundraising and just act like a bunch of fun-loving college kids. Deep down that's all we are. I have never laughed harder with a group of people than these 15 goons - always followed by a good "Help!" or some sort of noise from Corby. Riding across Penn State's campus taking pictures on our float, laughing and loving one another, Empowering the Dreamers for the first time, and waving my hand in the air so long that it just felt awkward, that's what I want back.
The fall semester seems so far away, but the memories seem so vivid. There are so many moments like the entire month of November that I just want to be replayed. No matter how little sleep we got or the mix of emotions that we endured every day, I can say with confidence that we would all pick up and do it again. Surviving until Thanksgiving Break seemed impossible at the time, but suddenly it was all over and we came back immediately diving into THON Weekend planning. Three weeks at home for Winter Break and it was go time. When I say go time, there is nothing like the countdown until THON Weekend. As Lauren can attest to, there are just simply not enough hours in the day and daily countdowns are probably the worst thing ever invented. Personally, I resorted to counting down in weeks because to me that sounded like I had much more time than was actually available.
As we approached THON, I don't think there has ever been so much hardship or feelings expelled in such a short amount of time. This weekend that we had all worked so hard to make happen was suddenly here. How is that possible, how could 300+ days be suddenly gone?! Standing in front of the crowd at the Road to THON Celebration, I can remember thinking how much time I still had to plan and coordinate the weekend. This extraneous thinking in that moment is most likely the reason behind me blanking post-speech and calling non other than Caroline Sheep back to the stage... to save my butt once again.
Despite my thought process that night, the time was up and I was OPPerating on two hours of sleep (four if you count the night before as well) to start setting up THON. I don't think there's a word or emotion that fully describes all of the feels I had as the 16 of us and our two lovely advisors stepped into the Jordan Center at 4:30a.m. It was go time and we ran into the building with our anthem blaring. From start to finish, from "dancers stand!" to "dancers sit!", to the final line dance on stage, THON Weekend flew by flawlessly. As we stood in that circle holding one another, I watched our year's worth of hard work, sweat, tears, laughs, Helps!, timelines, supplies, lopes, branding, TREEs, dances, and love before my eyes. We had done it. Together starting on that summer day at Old Main, scared beyond belief, was the same group holding each other, grasping onto the last year of our lives. And yet, jumping on stage presenting $13M FTK, it finally hit me that no other group of 16 individuals would ever be the same as ETJ. At no point in my life will I find a group that resembles these amazing best friends.
A wise woman once said, "you can't choose your family, but it is learning to face hardship head on and tackle obstacles as one that brings us all together. Although you may not always get along, being a family means loving one another through and through." That is exactly what this group of people has done throughout THON 2015. We may have come into this year as complete strangers, but together we have grown into one very close-knit, dysfunctional, outrageous, loud, loving, blue-to-the-core family.
I think I was in disbelief as we rose the total amount raised and tear down begun because it couldn't be over just yet. Deep down, I was in complete denial because after five years, I wasn't ready to say goodbye. It wasn't until this past week that I had some time to finally relax on the beaches of Cancun to put together this insane year in my mind. There's nothing like spending a week with the best people in a completely wifi-less, sandy, swim-up bar type of environment. For the first time ever, I think we were able to let go and have fun 100% of the time. It's crazy to think that in one week's time you can get closer to people you've just spent every single day with for the last year, but I'm here to say it is without a doubt possible.
Embrace The Journey was the name of our Executive Committee - a name that is probably 13,000,000% accurate when describing this year with these people. I can easily say that I'm not ready to let go of seeing each of them on a daily basis or running into the THON office causing a raucous for 15 minutes and then leaving. I will never forget this year as we embrace the next journey in our lives. Some staying in State College (because they're young and lucky), some of us graduating (because our parents are making us), but we will all be reunited soon enough. Every single day was a journey with ETJ, and these people have changed my life forever. I love you all more than words can describe, and I cannot thank you enough for putting up with my lack of hearing, constant chaos, and big blue heart.
Together we will always embrace and empower the road ahead because the 16 of us are just some crazy kids who want to change the world, and that will always be our legacy.
One phone call. Sometimes that's all it takes.
Disclaimer: all of the photos used in this blog post are the property of THON.
None of these photographs were taken by Andrew Koffke Photography