THON, Sunday, Four Diamonds Sign

A member of Phi Kappa Psi raises up the Four Diamonds sign from the stands of the Bryce Jordan Center during Penn State THON on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.

“For the kids.”

This simple three-word phrase serves as the basis for what THON strives to achieve each year. Since its creation in 1973, the annual 46-hour dance marathon has gone on to raise over $190 million for children and families who have experienced childhood cancer.

It also is a representation of the efforts made by students year-round as over 16,000 students have dedicated their time to finding a cure. Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, students and families persevered and managed to garner over $10 million through last year’s virtual format.

While THON makes for one of Penn State’s most memorable weekends, it’s important to remember why the community comes together — for the kids. While it sounds enticing to have THON back in person at the Bryce Jordan Center, the best course of action is to keep in mind the program’s message.

As entertaining as THON is for students, it was not created with the aim of simply a fun weekend. THON is meant to cater to the families of those with pediatric cancer or those who lost loved ones from it — not to the volunteers.

THON already encourages those who are feeling sick to avoid coming and have had instances in the past where both students and families were unable to attend due to outbreaks, such as a chickenpox spread in 2015.

Some families are unable to attend every year due to their children being ill and fear the chances of coming in contact with another illness — and the coronavirus is no different. According to the National Cancer Institute, people with cancer have a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.

Hosting in-person THON is an unnecessary risk considering the success of the virtual format in early 2021. While it might not capture the allure of the typical event, it’s better to be more precautious than run the chance of harming THON families.

If last year’s event proves anything, it’s that you can still raise money even in an unorthodox situation. In fact, under the circumstances, THON 2021 raised more than THON 2019.

It’ll be impossible to replicate the draw of in-person THON, but at the very least a virtual format can create a rewarding moment for all parties involved. It wouldn’t be fair for the kids to have to sit at home on the livestream while students are able to go to the BJC and experience the event to its full extent.

No decision has been made yet on whether THON will be held in-person, something that deserves praise for those involved in the program. After Penn State jumped the gun with its decision to allow full capacity in Beaver Stadium before the fall semester began, it’s good to see THON take its time with this matter.

The next few months could offer some signs of hope in regard to making this decision, but it’s still too far out to call it. Whatever the choice inevitably is, those involved in THON will make the safe and right choice with the well-being of the kids in mind.

If THON is held in person and there’s no change in the state of the pandemic, there should be one guarantee — mandatory vaccination.

This will not be how Penn State has handled the vaccine. The bare minimum to enter the BJC for THON has to be proof of vaccination, with masking and testing throughout the entirety of the event also required. While all participants should be expected to get vaccinated, dancers especially should be required, as they’ll be the ones actively involved for the full 46-hour marathon.

The argument of personal freedom should go out of the door in this case as unvaccinated participants run the risk of endangering children who are already predisposed to the effects of the coronavirus. And because children are unable to receive the vaccine, the impetus is on all THON volunteers and participants to do their part to make the environment as safe as possible.

With the inability for people to agree on vaccination mandates, THON will most likely receive backlash for this decision. But at the point in which the decision will be made, there’s a strong probability of Penn State reaching a 90% vaccine threshold. Currently, the university is at an over 87% vaccination rate.

Regardless of the outcome, the State College community can trust the leadership of THON officials. After being able to create the magic of the 46-hour dance marathon virtually, there’s no question they’ll be able to do the same at this year’s event while keeping the safety of everyone in mind, and of course will do it “for the kids.”

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

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