Area Colleges Are Preparing for Relay for Life

Students are eagerly anticipating this annual, national event benefiting American Cancer Society.

Survivor Lap at Boston University Relay for Life. Photo provided by BU Relay Committee.

Survivor Lap at 2013 Boston University Relay for Life. Photo provided by BU Relay Committee.

Boston-area college students are preparing for an event where they’ll walk around a track for 12 hours, and they can’t wait. Why? The event is Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society fundraiser held by colleges and high schools across the nation, where students raise as much money as possible for their teams and schools. The 12-hour “walk-a-thon” is also an event with various activities, entertainment, cancer awareness education, memorial ceremonies, and food.

Colleges in the Boston area will hold their events in late March and early April, and as those days draw near, it’s now fundraising and planning crunch time.

“A lot of people will make a pledge to walk a certain amount or a walk a full marathon,” says Kylie Madden, the staff adviser for Boston College, Harvard, Bentley, and Brandeis. “Anyone can participate because you can walk as much or as little as you want.”

Northeastern Zumba During 2013 Relay. Photo by Tessa Komine

Zumba During 2013 Relay for Life. Photo by Tessa Komine

Activities during the relay include contests, games, classes, and entertainment from campus performance groups. “I would say generally most events try to have Zumba and yoga to provide entertainment but to also promote a healthy active lifestyle,” Madden says.

Between Zumba-a-thons, a cappella concerts, date auctions, and more, each school has been hosting events to raise money. However, Giana Manzi, Northeastern University Relay for Life chairperson, says that the relay is more than just a fundraiser—it’s about advocacy as well.

When advertising for relay around campus, each school has made sure to include an element of advocacy. BC ran a campaign before spring break where they handed out information on preventing skin cancer to the students. Meanwhile, Brandeis has been giving out different colored ribbons around campus, each color representing a different cancer. Attached to the ribbons are fact sheets on that particular cancer. In addition, the Boston University Relay for Life committees volunteered at the local Hope Lodge, a lodge that provides free housing to patients seeking cancer treatments at the Boston hospitals.

Northeastern Students Watching Luminaria Ceremony, Photo by Tessa Komine

Northeastern Students Watching Luminaria Ceremony, Photo by Tessa Komine

Though the schools each host their own relays, all the money goes to the American Cancer Society. Yet, given the competitive nature of the schools, it’s easy to forget that it all goes to the same place. This year, the four Beanpot schools—Northeastern, BU, Harvard, and BC—used that competitive spirit and hosted a fundraising campaign together for the first time. At the start of the historical Beanpot hockey tournament, the schools held a competition where whichever of the four schools raised the most money until the final game of the tournament won a special trophy. Although they didn’t win the actual hockey tournament, Northeastern was the winner of this fundraising face-off.

Each relay event holds the same ceremonies to honor cancer survivors and commemorate those who have died from the disease, such as the luminaria ceremony and the survivor lap. While still including those traditions, the Boston schools are also striving to add their own unique flare to the events. In doing so, each school will have a theme for the event. For example, BU is featuring a superhero theme, Northeastern an Olympics theme, and BC is having an international theme called “passport to a cure.”

Luminaria Ceremony, Photo by Tessa Komine

Luminaria Ceremony, Photo by Tessa Komine

Last year, Northeastern raised $212,000 and was ranked No. 1 in fundraising out of the participating New England colleges (and 7th nationally). BC was a close second raising about $140,000. Up until last year, BC had always been first, and so, Madden says, the two schools have a healthy rivalry.

Manzi has participated in three out of the five years Northeastern has been involved in relay, so she’s really seen the event’s presence expand on campus. “It’s because it is something everyone can relate to. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been affected by cancer,” Manzi says. “It’s not one specific cancer or disease. It’s all cancer and it relates to everyone, so everyone has that special reason to relay.”