Last Saturday, after a particularly hedonistic Friday night, several students gave up valuable hours of respite and sleep in order to spend the night walking around the Freeman track. Exhausting, at times soggy, and ultimately joyous, nearly two hundred intrepid students pulled an all-nighter, not for studying or partying, but rather to display their dedication to fighting one of the world’s most prominent and formidable diseases—cancer.

From 6 p.m. on Saturday until Sunday morning, students and families participated in the University’s first American Cancer Society (ACS) Relay for Life. The ACS started hosting relays in 1986, and has since held thousands of similar symbolic events across the nation. The purpose of the relay is to celebrate survivors, mourn lost loved ones, and renew the commitment to combating cancer.

“The idea is that cancer never sleeps, so for one night, neither do we,” said Morgan Greenleaf, the ACS representative for the University.

Arriving on campus early last fall, Greenleaf had worked with many of the University’s peer institutions, such as Yale and the University of Connecticut, to put on Relay for Life events. Alongside Greenleaf, several devoted students planned and fundraised throughout the fall and winter, pulling together a heartfelt and extraordinary event.

With teams ranging from Clark freshmen to nearly the entire University chapter of Psi U, the participants raised over $25,000 for Saturday’s ACS relay.

The night opened with a small commencement ceremony, followed by a survivor’s lap, walked by students and faculty who had either endured cancer themselves or chose to represent friends and family who had been affected. The evening featured sets from reigning campus rock gods Duchampion and party-starter Bastille, keeping energy levels high even as temperatures began to drop.

The nearly 200 registered walkers filtered in and out throughout the night, listening to personal stories of both loss and triumph over the disease and remembering those whose lives it had taken. While numbers never reached their expected turnout, present walkers maintained an air of celebration.

Capping off the ceremonial opening of the night was the Luminaria Ceremony, where students lit candles inside bags of sand, each one carrying the name of a friend or loved one touched by cancer. A single, silent lap was then walked in their memory. The ceremony finished with a performance by Prometheus and an impromptu appearance by the Wesleyan Spirits, after which the track was closed off to all visitors, leaving only participant walkers. For the rest of the night, students and faculty took turns walking the track, even as weather took a turn for the worst.

“The weather remained clear for most of the night, so we were lucky in that aspect, although it was extremely cold,” said Hannah Monk ’12, one of the principle planners of the event. “Unfortunately, in the early morning hours the rain became too much and we decided to end early and call off the closing ceremony.  By that time, we only had about five die-hard participants walking the track.”

While attendance lagged behind expectations, the general atmosphere surrounding the relay was one of energy and enthusiasm.

“In the end, I think it was a good turnout,” said planning committee member Emma Caccamo ’13. “The people who came all really wanted to be there and were excited about what they were doing. Considering that it was our first year, and given the funds we raised, I think it was definitely a success.”

After raising an impressive sum of donations for the ACS and uniting many students under a single cause, the Relay for Life committee has high hopes for the future.

“I was really impressed by the dedication that a lot of students put in, from our dedicated committee to all the people who walked at Relay even when it started to rain,” said Ann Wheeler ’12, another primary planner. “Overall, I was really happy with how it went and think that it speaks well to the future of Relay here at Wesleyan”

The planning committee expressed similar optimism for the future, hoping to repeat its success and continue to get students involved in the fight against cancer.

“Most of us on the planning committee saw this event as just getting our foot in the door for the years to come,” Monk said.  “My personal goal was to introduce this great event to the Wesleyan community… and I have very high hopes for Relay for Life at Wesleyan in the future.”

While the Relay itself is over for 2010, students and families can still donate to the ACS on behalf of the University and planning committee through this August by going to:

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