Penn State's THON Is #FTK
Allison Kreider is a 2012 graduate of Penn State University and current intern at Lois Paul & Partners. This is the fourth part of a four-part series covering the many angles of the sex scandal at Penn State from a first-person account and PR perspective. From how the football team, the same football program that was at the heart of the scandal, surpassed all expectations during the 2012 season in light of a new coaching staff and shaken up starting roster, to hidden gems that can help Penn State shine as it crawls out from the darkness, there are stories to be told about how this school has responded to unprecedented public relations pressure.
After reading the first three posts in this series, (if you haven’t yet, you can find them here) one might think that there is no way for Penn State to ever don a badge of honor again.
From the administration to the trustees to the former football program, they’ve all had their fair share of faults. But there is one stakeholder that hasn’t been discussed much throughout my series, and with reason. The students -- the pulse of the school, what about them?
When one thinks of college students, typically empty beer cans, day-old pizza and “Mom, can you send ‘rent’ money?” comes to mind. And yes, there’s a little (okay a lot) of that at Penn State, but the PSU student body is unique to any other in one special way. THON.
I put a lot of thought into how I was going to approach this post, as it’s a topic that holds a dear place in my heart, and it’s a must that I do it justice. I was going to attempt to explain what THON is, but it was so aptly put by a peer of mine who is still at Penn State in a recent article she wrote.
THON is not just a weekend long dance marathon to benefit pediatric cancer. It is not just an event where 700-plus students stand on their feet for an entire 46 hours without sitting or sleeping, while more than 10,000 students cheer them on all day and night. It’s not just a big party where student clubs and organizations from Greek Life to athletic teams join together to fight the same fight. It’s not just another “great cause” for people to feel good about being a part of, or donating money to. THON is more than all of those things. It’s a feeling.
Oh, and it’s also the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
And no, there weren’t any typos or factual errors mentioned above. There actually are 700 students who do not sleep or sit for 46 hours. There actually are thousands of friends and family members who fill the Bryce Jordan Center to cheer them on and experience THON. “Why,” you might ask? Well #FTK of course!
FTK is an acronym that anyone and everyone in and around Happy Valley knows, and says with just as much pride as “WE ARE!” FTK stands for “For The Kids” – and that’s what THON is about.
THON raises millions of dollars every year to fight the battle against pediatric cancer. Every dollar goes toward the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital and helps offset the medical expenses incurred by families fighting for their child’s life. THON’s mission is to eradicate childhood cancer and so we don’t just dance FTK, but also For The Cure. This event is unlike anything else I’ve ever been a part of. The only way to understand it is to feel it, and the only way to feel it, is to experience it.
I could honestly go on for hours divulging all the wonderful and inspiring things that THON does and represents, but given the professional nature of this blog, I’ll stick to the PR side of things. I was never more aware of the media’s obsession with negativity and scandal, and ignorance to inspiring stories than I was as a student at Penn State last year.
All the news trucks and satellite vans that lined College Avenue that first week of November were MIA the third weekend in February. After every single major news outlet in the country and beyond was quick to air out the dirty laundry (which was soiled by administrators and “leaders”) Philadelphia’s regional ABC affiliate was the only “major” media outlet to cover THON, a student run event which raised over $10 million dollars in one year. Several news outlets wanted to be the first to break the bad news, but barely any were there to show the good news.
THON is the hidden gem in the dirt mound that is Penn State’s public reputation. By no means should it justify any actions of any one person, but should some media light be shed on some of the amazing things that happen inside the student culture at our university, the world may not think so poorly of my dear old White and Blue.
When the world viewed our school as a place where the life of a child wasn’t cherished it was a blow to the hearts of the thousands of students who work so hard to protect and preserve the innocence of children who are suffering. The media spun the action of one man into a web that blocked the world from seeing or hearing about any of the positive things happening at our institution.
As a fellow Penn Stater and LPP’er, my colleague Katie Huber offered a personal PR thought as well. “From a PR perspective, THON provides a unified message on what defines Penn State as an academic institution and offers the community a positive outlook on the future of the university,” she said.
I couldn’t agree more.
As we head into that future, my hope is that someday, when someone hears the name “Penn State” they won’t think of Joe Pa’s legacy, or a child abuse scandal, or even a football team. My hope is that someday, when someone hears the name “Penn State”, they think of THON.