Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while you could miss it.
You all know that quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It always looks alright with a decorative font overlaid on an out of focus, millennial existentialism-type photo on Pinterest. Something great to scroll past.
Until it becomes truer than true.
15 days after I stood on stage, held my digit, and watched 2,000 students collectively lose it when we revealed the 2014 final fundraising total, and a few hours after transition retreat ended, it just hit me. Like a train. The impact of what we’ve accomplished and how much we’ve grown.
It’s an overwhelming sense of pride, hope, joy, camaraderie, wonder and sparkle. I don’t know exactly what triggered it a few minutes ago. I was just clearing my inbox, getting ready to pass it to Brendan, and scrolling through some photos from earlier this year when all at once the wall I had built (out of necessity) to stave off the imminent emotional roller coaster came crashing down. Sure, I ugly cried with everyone else when we found out the final number, $551,595.87, in the Executive Board room moments before revealing it to the dancers. I had my moments of pride in the nights and days after. And I knew, definitely knew, that what we did was both unprecedented and immensely impactful. But there’s a difference between knowing and feeling in your soul. When the glowing golden fibers of knowledge have intertwined themselves with the essential strands of who you are.
And that’s what it feels like. Everything has an extra shine to it. Earlier, people would say congratulations, we’re so proud of you, and wonderful, supportive things like that, and I could say thank you! Thank you so much for visiting/donating/supporting! And I meant every syllable of it. But it’s a whole new level of gratitude if you can grasp, even a little bit, the idea of your piece in the larger puzzle. I am so grateful for the people who have helped me grow into the person I am and the people who helped us reach this place. It’s been a year and 15 days since I found out I was on the 2014 Executive Board for UNC Dance Marathon. Between then and now, hundreds, thousands, of people have helped shape our dream into a reality. I will do my best to properly thank those people. I only have a little bit of time between now and separating from this college bubble, probably including the majority of those people, but I can at least try.
I had built a barricade against the wave of emotions, much like beach towns prepare for a hurricane with sand bags along the coast, because I thought for sure that once it hit me I would break down. I knew I was in the warpath of a barrage of all-consuming positive emotions, and I didn’t know my capacity for them because I hadn’t been in a position quite like this before, where the greater organization’s success was closely related to my own personal successes. I had built a mental storage area for all those thoughts, to pocket them for a later, more convenient time to sink in.
Well here we are. It took 15 days, and I knew it was coming eventually. All of my dance marathon friends around me had their moments at the marathon or shortly after it ended, and I told them, “it’ll hit me later. I’m just in shock.” Which is partly true, because it truly was a shocking accomplishment (by my interpretation anyways, to watch us go from zero to more than a half-million dollars because of the hard work and dedication of my very talented friends). The other part was the wall. Like the quote at the beginning of this post, I was moving too fast. I wasn’t stopping, and I was missing it. It being life, the little moments, allowing myself to ruminate and think deeply. I don’t recommend that life to any of the new Executive Board members, or anyone really. In addition to serving as the 2014 Publicity Chair for UNC Dance Marathon, a full-time job in itself, I was in 15 credit hours, working an internship with international travel, acting as lead presentation designer for UNC’s National Student Advertising Competition, helping out with the occasional thing for my sorority or Camp Kesem, and trying to keep up with normal human being things like friend time and exercise. I don’t regret a single one of those choices, and don’t know how I would’ve chosen which one to cut out if I had to do it all again. I’m not the kind of person who can easily walk away from something I care deeply about, and I am the kind of person who quickly falls in love with the things I’m involved in. So I try to do it all.
With that means never stopping. As soon as dance marathon ended I was expecting this huge sense of release and well, free time. But that didn’t happen because with the pub chair position comes wrap-up publicity and coordinating final details in the weeks following. Additionally, NSAC (the advertising competition team I mentioned earlier) had two busy periods. The first was during my personal busiest week: the 26-page plans book for which I was a designer was due March 21 at 5 p.m. And guess what began at 7 p.m. March 21? Just the 24-hour event culmination of my entire collegiate career. The second busy period was immediately after dance marathon ended. The district competition in which 8 teams from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia present our campaigns was April 4, so the time between dance marathon and districts was a rush to put together a presentation, and for me, lead the design process for it. Now that another NSAC busy phase has passed (P.S. WE WON OUR DISTRICT! Broke UVA’s 10+ year winning streak!) and UNC-DM has selected and transitioned in a new Executive Board, the wall holding back all those thoughts I’d been saving for later isn’t as necessary. Not that it ever really was, I realize now.
Admittedly, I had putting off this post as long as I could. I knew there was an element of timeliness that needed to be in any of my post-marathon writing, but I’m glad I didn’t just churn out something for the sake of putting it out there quickly. My mind wasn’t in the right place. So, as I was sitting at my computer and mentally going through the rest of the steps to letting go of UNC-DM and passing the torch to Brendan, it happened. And now I think I can start letting go.
UNC-DM has been my home for the past four years. It was there from the beginning, before I even moved into my freshman dorm. It’s where I found my closest friends and inspiration. Taught me life skills like time management and delegation. Professional skills like AP style and Illustrator. It introduced me to the world of communications and helped me find a major/future career path where my passion, creativity and skills intersect: advertising. It taught me how to relate to fellow humans and see the world beyond my two feet. Showed me the strength of a team. Helped me realize that you can do it all: do a job that you love, surrounded by people who love you, and make a difference in the world. Almost every development in my character since freshman year, every triumph and discovery, I credit to UNC Dance Marathon and the people I met through it.
It’ll break your heart. You fall so completely in love with this organization and the people in it. You fall in love with the cause, the event, the little things. You fall in love with the way it makes you feel, and how connected you become to every other person there. You fall in love with the joy and the passion, both your own and the people’s around you. UNC Dance Marathon embodies everything great about this university. It showcases the best in its students. Through every hardship, we are there for each other. We look beyond our small sphere and find a way to make a difference in this world. We carry each other to be best possible versions of ourselves. We aren’t afraid to lean on our friends. And it all ends. But it doesn’t. You will be heartbroken because it’ll never be the same. You’ll never get to walk into Fetzer for the first time again, awestruck by the banners and lights. But you carry the best of it with you and cheer as part of the alumni family. And the three letters “FTK” will always hold a special significance.
It’s a simple, three word phrase. It means through everything we do and everything we say, there is something larger at the root of what we do. For UNC-DM, FTK is the patients and families of N.C. Children’s Hospital. For DM NSCU, it’s the miracle children from Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. FTK is our torch for lighting a fire within each and every student involved; teaching them how to be a great, and inherently good citizen of the world, ready to lend a hand to anyone who needs it. It varies from school to school and organization to organization, but no matter what organization you’re a part of or what the cause is, environmentalism, human rights, disability awareness, you recognize the same light burning within. Different organizations have different torches, but the fire burns just as bright in everyone. My fire was lit by UNC-DM and FTK. That will always be true. I might fall in love with another organization down the road, but UNC-DM will always be special for being the spark to illuminate the part of me that I’m most proud of.
Always, always, I will be FTK.