“When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”
The University of South Carolina Dance Marathon team chose “The Power of One” as the theme for their 20th year. It means many things to many people, but just before midnight Saturday, it all came down to the goal: $1,000,000 for the kids at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.
The one almost 200 members of the student organization had worked for all year. The one more than 2,200 other students who came to dance for 14 hours to make the incredibly ambitious goal a reality. The one supporters all over the world were watching for. The one alumni came from all over the country to see.
That one came down to a card lying face down on the stage in front of 2018 USCDM President Jax Boucher. More than 2,400 people watched, barely breathing, as down the line from right to left the executive board lifted their cards. Dance Marathon began in 1998 with five digit totals. Recent years brought six, including a record-setting $703,289 in 2017.
The card Boucher lifted high, greeted by a deafening outburst of joy, was the seventh digit. It was the number the students had put in so many hours, so many late nights, so many tears, to see.
Mission accomplished. History made. For love. For hope. For the kids.
“What you have done for the kids, this is as big as the Final Four. This is as big as winning the Outback Bowl. This is as big as winning the women’s basketball national championship,” USC President Harris Pastides said to the USCDM team Saturday night. “You are what makes the University of South Carolina great.”
Across campus from the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, as Boucher and her teammates held high the cards proclaiming the total of $1,025,171, the lights encircling the top of USC’s landmark Capstone building came to life, glowing garnet. The university turns on the garnet lights to recognize moments when Gamecocks accomplish something truly extraordinary. As Pastides said, this more than qualified.
It was a moment no one in the room or watching via streaming from all around the world will soon forget, but as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote about another revolutionary time in history, “This is not a moment, it’s the movement.”
“People have traveled from California 20 years later to be part of this movement,” Boucher said without exaggeration. Several USCDM founders were in the, and distance was no barrier. USCDM is a family, and that does not change with graduation.
The money will change the lives of countless children for the better. Countless because it will fully fund the Child Life Program at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital for another year and pay for a new playground there, specially designed for use by kids battling health problems.
Child Life specialists work to make every visit to the hospital as comfortable and pleasant as possible for the kids and for their families. The specialists know none of their patients wants to be there. They still show them love, and give them hope.
The USCDM and hospital teams refer to those patients as “Miracle Kids” and many of them were on hand with their families Saturday to speak to the crowd and share just how much that hope and love means.
Katie Kendall began chemotherapy on her 13th birthday. It sounds like one of the worst imaginable ways for a child to spend a birthday, but Kendall said otherwise Saturday on stage.
“It was actually pretty cool, because the Child Life staff came and threw me a birthday party. They put up decorations and got me a present. They came and sang to me and brought a card and everything. That’s something that wouldn’t have been possible without the Child Life Program, paid for by the fundraising that you guys are doing.”
Kendall defeated leukemia and founded a mini Dance Marathon at Ben Lippen as a high school student. She now attends Furman and takes part in theirs.
Miracle Kid Zoe Tipping hit her own fundraising goal of $500 for USCDM, and her mom, Courtney Tipping, took the stage and had her head shaved (with help from Zoe) as promised. It meant that much to her. The cheers from the crowd as her hair fell away were some of the loudest of the 14-hour Main Event.
The USCDM team also heard from Sheila Hemingway, whose son Keldon (now healthy and on hand Saturday) was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at 6 years old. Sheila Hemingway’s mother passed away while Keldon was in treatment, and the Child Life staff stepped forward to help.
“The only reason Child Life can be mom when mom can’t be mom is because of what you’re doing,” she said from the stage Saturday. “You could’ve been anywhere tonight but you’re right here. I’m here to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have done so much and it’s all about these kids.”
“All about these kids.” For USCDM, it always is.
For more on USC Dance Marathon, read the stories of some of this year’s student leaders. Even with history made, the mission will not stop, and you can help the cause by donating. For love, for hope, and always for the kids.