Relay For Life focuses on themes of celebration, remembrance, fighting back
Strolling down the track, fighting with plastic robots or breaking the rules of a silent rave to belt out “Call Me Maybe,” hundreds of students gathered on Francis Field Saturday night for Washington University’s annual Relay For Life.
The event, which ranked fifth in fundraising among all college Relays, raised $212,814.84 for the American Cancer Society after 12 hours of themed dances, a luminaria ceremony and survivor remarks.
“I think raising over $200,000 on a campus is an incredible, incredible accomplishment,” senior Deborah Goldberg, co-chair of the Relay For Life Steering Committee, said. “I think at the end of the day, it is about the number because those dollars are what go toward funding research and funding patient services and funding advocacy efforts, but it’s also about bringing awareness to campus and getting our mission message out there, and that’s not something you can put a dollar amount on.”
This year’s Relay for Life opened with a ceremony to celebrate the three themes of the national event: celebrate, remember and fight back. Throughout the night, students, faculty, staff and guests participated in three ceremonies around each of these themes.
The opening ceremony featured comments from Chancellor Mark Wrighton, who remarked on the cancer research work in St. Louis that focuses particularly on cancer genomics, which is partially funded by the efforts of Relay For Life. His wife, Risa Zwerling Wrighton, sponsored a faculty and staff team for the event, and the Wrightons also donated an additional $10 for each faculty and staff member present at the event.
“Registration happens a couple of hours before [the opening ceremonies], and everything is really crazy, and it’s hard to tell because it’s a big space how many people are there,” Goldberg said. “We corral everyone for opening ceremonies onto the stands, and watching everyone go into the stands and realizing that we are one community…taking a minute to step back and look back at getting everybody on the field to do what we came to do—that’s my favorite part.”
The Relay For Life tradition of circling the track was diversified by providing participants and guests with opportunities for entertainment and activities. Student group performances from dance, a cappella and improvisational comedy groups took place on a stage at the southwest corner of Francis Field.
At the conclusion of all the performances at midnight, many took part in a “silent rave” organized by Junior Class Council. The rave consisted of two hours of dancing done by participants who rented wireless headphones, which allowed them to switch back and forth between the music of two disc jockeys onstage.
Each ceremony throughout the evening included student speakers who discussed a variety of topics and experiences with cancer. Some were survivors of the disease, and others had cared for or lost loved ones to cancer.
“I think what I take away most is that we can all make a difference in the fight against cancer,” Goldberg said. “You don’t have to be a doctor or scientist; you don’t have to work in a lab. We can raise funds; we can raise awareness; we can build a community that supports people who are fighting, people who are grieving, people who are healing—and not just once, but on a yearly basis as part of a campus community.”
Sophomore Amy Fjerstad said that in addition to the performances, she appreciated the various booths set up and was influenced to sign up to become a bone marrow donor at the event.
“I felt bad because I felt like I hadn’t really raised a lot of money to contribute before Relay, but it was great that all these other groups had set up booths for us to walk around,” she said. “I’m glad I signed up to be a donor because I felt like I had done something significant beyond just walk the track and donate some money and that I was helping the cause.”
Students were generally impressed by the lively atmosphere of the event.
“I think it was really cool to see so many people come out and support this event,” senior Madeline Spahr said. “The most empowering part of the night was probably seeing the rows of luminarias because it’s clear to see how cancer has affected so many people’s lives.”
Senior Adam Segal said he was impressed by how well done the whole event was.
“What really surprised me was everyone’s attitudes—I thought that people might be bored just walking around a track, but it was a really lively atmosphere, and people were having a really good time,” he said. “I’m glad I got to attend before I graduated because in the past I’d never really had the motivation to join a team, so this was definitely a good experience.”