Emotions ran high, but students at the 12th annual Relay For Life remained hopeful in the fight against cancer.
After a night of tears, embracing hugs and upbeat activities, donations totaled almost $81,800. More than $10,700 was raised on the day of the event alone.
“We came in with $70,000 from online donations,” said public health junior Kali Kearns, the co-chair for the annual overnight event. “Probably hit $10,000 tonight.”
Relay For Life is a fundraising event put on in 5,200 different communities for American Cancer Society. The goal is to raise money for research and honor those who have succumbed to cancer. Syracuse University had its first Relay event in 2002.
Students trickled into the Carrier Dome as rain splattered down. More than 80 student organizations and groups set up tents and blankets on the turf, preparing for a long night ahead. Some brought activities to raise money throughout the event.
The event began with announcements from a stage set up at the front of the Dome. Guest speakers like former SU football player Rob Long shared their stories, a common theme throughout the night.
To kick off the event, cancer survivors were honored by taking a lap around the Carrier Dome track. Attendees cheered them on as they walked around the Dome. After the first lap, supporters joined the walk as applause continued.
At 10 p.m., the doors closed and the Luminaria ceremony began. In this part of the event, participants at Relay are invited to walk around the track as names of victims are read aloud, with a photo montage of those people projected on the big screens. With the lights dimmed and soft music playing, the Luminaria is a time of reflection.
Students were seen sobbing and tearing throughout the hour. Friends hugged one another, supporting those who felt especially affected by cancer. Brown paper bags decorated by students with messages to loved ones were placed around the track, illuminated by glow sticks put inside of them. As more and more people left the track to support their friends, large crowds of students surrounded individual bags.
At 11 p.m., the lights went back on and activities resumed.
“It’s probably the toughest hour of the whole event. It’s really emotional,” social work junior Joanne Caulfield said. “Just to see everyone else so touched by it, it’s another good reason to see how many people are affected by cancer. It’s really inspirational.”
Caulfield is on the Relay For Life planning committee. It is her third Relay event at SU.
“It gets better each year,” she said. “It’s probably the highlight of my year. It’s a great way to have different organizations come together all for one cause.”
Caulfield said that while no one in her family has cancer, she became involved because a girl who lived on her floor freshman year had a father with cancer. After Caulfield was asked to participate, she discovered what the event was about and stuck with it.
“Who likes cancer?” Caulfield said. “I’m just really here to support my friends and people I’ve known that have had cancer. It’s just a great cause.”
While some students came to Relay For Life to support their friends, others were more personally affected by the sting of cancer. Kearns, the event co-chair, said she knew a lot of people affected by cancer. She lost one of her best friends in the 10th grade. Recently, her great-uncle was diagnosed with kidney cancer too. “That has always been near and dear to my heart,” Kearns said. “It’s definitely something that has been part of my life for a while now, so I wanted to give back somehow.”
Kearns and Caulfield were just two of more than a thousand students who attended the event. Kearns said about 1,100 students registered online, and at least 200 more signed up at the door. This year, the committee removed a rule that limited a team to just 15 members. “I think that brought in more people because they didn’t feel restricted,” Kearns said.
After the Luminaria, many students left the Dome, while others dug in for the night. To entertain those who stayed, the committee put on a whole night of performances, ranging from Zumba exercising sessions to performances by dance troupes Orange Pulse and Orange Bhangra.
At 5 a.m. the next morning, tired students awoke as the closing ceremony announced a grand fundraising total of $81,799. The committee also gave out awards to the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity, a community service organization, for volunteering throughout the night.
“I think this one went great,” Kearns said. “I’m glad there’s still this many people here.”