Relay For Life of UNC, the student organization that has basically been my child for the past year, hosted its final event of the year yesterday and today. The event was 15 hours long, and went from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising event, and the idea is that you have at least one person walking around a track for the entirety of the event. Although I wasn't on the track the entire fifteen hours myself, I believe we succeeded in our goal. A Relay For Life event symbolizes so much. It makes us hope for all of our futures and for a world with out cancer. It makes us think deeply about the lives lost and the lives changed by cancer. It makes us thankful for every minute that we have to spend with one another.
It's an event that can be serious by nature, but it's also so much fun. We danced through midnight zumba for an hour, ate cookout milkshakes even though it was only about 43 degrees outside, sang horrible karaoke through hoarse voices around 3:30 am and made it all the way until closing ceremonies at 9 a.m. during which I somehow addressed a body of people without making a fool of myself after no sleep.
When I first started my Relay For Life position as Director, I was extremely focused and goal-driven. As for our somewhat outlandish fundraising and participant goals? In my mind there was no way we weren't going to reach them. We were going to surpass them, even. Even when our American Cancer Society staff partner suggested we lower them, we thought: No. It has to be bigger and better and more fun and make more money than ever before. Spoiler: We didn't reach those huge goals we had set for ourselves.
Second semester brought a couple of set backs followed by more set backs and it started to become clear In the last month or two leading up to our final fundraising push and then fundraising event that we weren't going to make those goals. I was a bit panicky. In my mind, success meant a certain amount of money and a certain number of participants. It wasn't until I spent those fifteen hours with friends with whom I had spent countless evenings and weekends planning and looked around at the proud cancer survivors dressed in purple with huge smiles, enjoying a cupcake from an onsite fundraiser and cheering their grandchildren on as they attempted to dunk a college student in the dunk tank that I felt happy. It dawned on me that my priorities were horribly misaligned.
Here's the truth: It didn't matter how much money we raised. It didn't matter how many people were there. What mattered was that I , along with some of my closest friends, had taken the time to devote part of my college experience to making the world a better place. We fundraised over $78,000 in a single year. We recruited over 800 students and community members to participate in a 15 hour event, when there were definitely more productive things they could have done with their Friday and Saturday. We provided emotional support to people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Who knows if it's going to be one of the dollars that we fundraised that changes the research of one scientist that leads to an important discovery?
I think it's easy to get caught up in the numbers of life: your business goals, how much you're saving every month, how many miles you want to be able to run, etc. But stopping to appreciate your progress and impact is so important. Someday, I just might be in a position to be able to raise a million dollars for an important cause because I experienced this now, while I'm still in college.
I want to change the world someday. Don't we all?
I think I've already started.
That's a pretty good feeling.