The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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15th Annual Relay for Life: Apart But Together

Amidst pandemic the cancer charity event continues to be held virtually
Relay for Life is normally held in Carnesecca Arena – this year, the event took place online. TORCH PHOTO/ AMANDA NEGRETTI

Though the St. John’s campus remains closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this hasn’t stopped some organizations from holding their events virtually. 

St. John’s Relay for Life raised over $33,800 and counting during its 15th annual fundraising event through their Instagram page (@stjohnsrelay), using the hashtag #relaywhereyouare to encourage participants to join from home. This year’s relay was scheduled as a week’s worth of events lasting from Monday, April 13 through Friday, April 17.  Each day began  at 12 p.m. with a welcome announcement and ended with a scheduled closing between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. except the last day, which ended at 3 p.m.

Jasleen Gill, senior and one of the MCs of Relay for Life, has been on the Relay Committee for three years. She believed that the decision to cancel the Relay event this year wasn’t an option even if it couldn’t happen in person.

“The thing is that now that we’re in quarantine we’re always on our phones and computers, so to do an online event was a no brainer,” Gill said. “We feel for everyone who has been affected by COVID-19 and we’re all doing our part to help stop the spread of this virus, but it’s not the time to forget about those suffering from cancer.”

The organization started off the week of activities by posting an IGTV opening ceremony on its Instagram page,  welcoming viewers and participants alike to the event. 

“We recognize that we cannot be here physically together,” Gill said. “But we’re happy that we’re still able to bring you this Relay for Life virtual experience no matter where you are in this new normal of social distancing.” 

Andrew Kilada, also a senior and MC of Relay for Life, then announced the  events for the week  that would include motivational speakers as well as opportunities for participants to get their bodies moving and virtually engage with games and activities. 

“Most importantly, this week, we’ll be celebrating and honoring our survivors, remembering those we have lost and fight back against this terrible disease,” Kilada said.

The week’s events were announced, beginning with an invitation to join fitness instructor Agnes Impelli and Campus Recreation for a sculpting session through Webex on Monday at 5 p.m.. Impelli usually teaches this sculpting class  every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at the Fitness Center. On Tuesday, Relay hosted a Marvel trivia game through their Facebook page and a Zumba live stream session via  Zoom. On Thursday, they hosted a Netflix watch party. 

After the week’s events were announced, Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs, Dr. Kathryn Hutchinson, then delivered a speech on the first day of Relay from home and addressed her gratitude for the St. John’s community and their efforts to continue holding the annual event virtually. 

“The fact that Relay for Life is continuing under quarantine conditions is a perfect example of the power of St. John’s students,” Hutchinson said. “Although we will miss spending 12 hours together in the fight against cancer, I ask that for a minute you put yourself into Carnesecca Arena hearing the sounds of friends laughing, dancing and walking and walking and walking.”

Hutchinson described this year’s Relay for Life as a special one for the volunteers who worked to create the virtual event, those who continue to celebrate loved ones and cancer survivors with luminaria candles and the St. John’s students who worked to put the original event together prior to the University closing. 

To ensure that this virtual Relay resembled as much of the in-person experience as possible, the Relay Instagram page posted performances from the St. John’s Cheer Team to kick off the week and an original skit called “More than Enough,” performed by Philippine-Americans Reaching Everyone (PARE). A live performance by DJ Anthony Gelo was also broadcasted on Twitch and Instagram Live.

In dedication to the cancer survivors and fighters, the organization posted a message on its Instagram page that emphasized the power of hope.

“Hope is a word that every hurting heart understands. Hope shines brighter than the brightest star on the darkest night. If you can look at the sunset and smile; if you can find the beauty in the colors of a small flower, then you still have hope.”

Tuesday’s speaker was Alexandra Checkers, a graduate student with a bachelor’s degree in psychology currently working toward her master’s in business administration at St. John’s. She spoke about her mother, an alumna of the University and survivor of stage four colon cancer. Checkers explained that in February, her mother was confirmed to be cancer free. Both her parents then turned out to have tested positive as asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus. Checkers went on to say that they recently recovered.

“I wanted to use this story as a reminder to everyone to take the current world events very seriously,” Checkers said. “Stay home if possible. If you do go out, practice social distancing. You never know if you could be an asymptomatic carrier and come in contact with someone like my mother at the grocery store or at Starbucks.”

Wednesday’s Relay theme was remembrance; participants were encouraged to provide their reasons as to why they relay, and also participate in the luminaria ceremony, where paper lanterns are lit to honor cancer survivors and fighters. 

“They represent the people affected by cancer and each has a name and story to tell. They are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, classmates and friends. We love these people who these luminaria represent and we remember them, celebrate them and fight back against the disease for them,” Nicole Cernaro, chair of luminaria, said during the luminaria ceremony.

Relay’s advisor, Jennifer Grauso, and her son Dominick Grauso shared a video together, in which  Dominick chose his mom as his reason to relay. 

Survivor of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and University class of 2019 alum Jonathan Guerrero shared why he relays and expressed his gratitude for healthcare workers on the frontlines of the current pandemic. 

Double-alum Alora Santoriello has been relaying from home by walking on her treadmill. As this year marks her sixth year of participating in Relay for Life for her grandparents, she decided to keep the tradition going.

“My grandparents who I lived with actually both developed different kinds of cancer and unfortunately passed away from it,” Santoriello said. “I realized how important it is to continue to participate in Relay even when we have to be distant from our family and friends.” 

Day four of the Relay for Life fundraising event was focused on the mission of the American Cancer Society (ACS) and encouraged viewers to volunteer with ACS’ Cancer Action Network (CAN), the nation’s leading cancer advocacy organization. According to the ACS website, participants are able to take action from their homes by texting the word “college” to 40649 to “to help enact laws and policies that will make cancer a top national priority.” 

Participants are also encouraged to volunteer and donate to ACS’ Hope Lodge, a free place for cancer patients and caregivers to stay when they are recommended to stay in another city for effective treatment. Recently, according to a post shared by Relay for Life, Hope Lodge has also been repurposed to house front line health care workers.

To close off the annual fundraising event, the last day was aimed toward gratitude for the teams that supported and raised money. 

Sophomore Sabrina Abbamonte helped raise $1,040 and counting; Lambda Kappa Sigma raised over $7,800 and Hope Club members, as listed on the Relay Instagram page, each raised over $100. Other organizations who helped raise money, as announced on Relay’s Instagram page, were labeled as the Silver, Bronze and Rising Star Teams who in total, helped raise over $7,000. 

While this year’s Relay was different from others, Morgan Wright, American Cancer Society staff partner, collaborated with co-MCs Kilada and Gill, the Relay for Life Committee and advisors Jack Flynn and Jennifer Grauso to provide the St. John’s community with the experience they were looking forward to.

“A big thing that the students were tasked with was how to turn a 12 hour event 1) virtual, 2) maintain those impactful/emotional moments that our traditional event had, 3) still bring the fun, and 4) the awareness and mission of The American Cancer Society,” Wright said. “We were able to bring the opening ceremony, survivor recognition, luminaria ceremony, numerous mission moments, top team/participant recognition, trivia, live dj, games, et cetera, to allow everyone to Relay no matter where they were – because cancer doesn’t stop, so neither will we.”

In addition to the week-long event hosted last week, St. John’s Relay for Life is also hosting a three-day Relay Facebook Fundraising challenge, which will take place from April 22-24.


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Andreina Rodriguez
Andreina Rodriguez, News Editor
Andreina is a senior who has been with the Torch since her sophomore year as a staff writer and photographer. Last year she served as Assistant Social Media Manager, and this year her goal is to cover as much news as possible as News Editor. After finishing an internship with the Queens Courier, she will begin interning with CBSN this fall. You can reach Andreina at [email protected].  
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