Behind Relay For Life’s “Purple Storm”


Nicholas Amster

This year’s Relay For Life broke records.

Livia Paula, Features Editor

It is April once again, and the Red Storm has turned purple. Several events and fundraisers happened for various months leading up to this day. As one walked around campus on April 17, they saw St. John’s University’s students and faculty headed towards Carnesecca arena representing their organizations.

For outsiders, the event looked like an enormous sleepover, with students and faculty carrying around their pillows and blankets. Inside the arena, people gathered to walk the survivors lap throughout the night. Cancer survivors and supporters came together for a good cause.

“Celebrate. Remember. Fight back.” That was the logo spread around campus for St. John’s University’s 10th Relay For Life event.

“I joined Relay when I came to St. John’s because I have had several family members and close family friends who have been touched by cancer,” said sophomore Catherine Sheehan, the chair of Relay For Life. Her first Relay experience was in 2014 when she was the co-chair of the entertainment committee and worked directly with Relay For Life.

Relay For Life started at 6 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m. the next day. This overnight event is the biggest event on campus, gathering different organizations and teams who raised money. The American Cancer Society event, represented by the color purple, was made to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, remember those who weren’t fortunate enough and raise money to help those who are fighting the disease. The event happens in high schools and colleges around the country.

This year, St. John’s University broke their record by raising $114,223. According to Sheehan, planning for Relay 2015 began last May. “When one Relay ends, preparations start almost immediately for the next one,” she said. Sheehan considered herself “blessed” to work with her chair Katie Dineen, co-chair Cody Barber, her dedicated committee and the administration, particularly Mary Pelkowski.

Sheehan’s favorite part of this year’s Relay was the survivors lap following the opening ceremony.

“There’s a couple that comes each year, both are survivors and they walked the lap holding hands,” she said. “This was the most beautiful moment for me.”

Her most memorable Relay experience was the opening ceremony last year, particularly the Luminaria ceremony.

“Each year we sell Luminaria in memory and in honor of those who are fighting or have fought cancer,” Sheehan said. “It was this beautiful moment where everyone in Carnesecca was there to fight, to fight for those who have lost their battle, are fighting it or were there with us to celebrate beating cancer.”

The Luminaria ceremony was also the favorite part for senior Katie Dineen, this year’s chair of the Student Affairs committee and former chair for Relay For Life.

“For just a few minutes, every student, guest and administrator in the room forgets about their own problems, their papers, their jobs and their to-do-lists and they remember why they participate in Relay for Life in the first place,” Dineen said.

She believes that the St. John’s community values student engagement and she is very fortunate to be part of it.

“It’s very humbling to know that something you have put so much work into becomes something so much bigger than ourselves,” she said. “Relay would be nothing without the students and alumni who commit themselves to fundraising for the cause.”

Dineen’s first experience with the event happened while she was still a junior in high school.

“Seeing everyone there supporting each other committed me to Relay for the rest of my life,” she said.

Relay For Life isn’t only about the survivors lap and touching ceremonies—   various student organizations and entertainers join the cause to make the attendees of the event engaged throughout the night.

Sophomore Alexandra Kaiser is the chair of the Entertainment Committee, and she is the one who planned and executed the event decorations, activities and entertainment from the actual Relay For Life event as well as the events leading up to it, such as the Purple Ball fundraiser.

Kaiser committed to relay in honor of her father.

“I joined Relay last February, two months after my dad was diagnosed with cancer,” Kaiser said. “He has been my inspiration from the start and I continue to Relay in his honor.”

Kaiser said that one of the things she loves about her job is how many students reach out to be part of the event.

“I think that it is so wonderful that so many students have a passion for Relay and are willing to volunteer their time and talents to help us have an amazing night,” she said.