Tommie Traditions: Up 'til Dawn

Celebrating its 10th year, the University of St. Thomas branch of Up ’til Dawn hosted its annual all-night fundraising event Nov. 14 and raised more than $46,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. That makes a total of more than $500,000 that St. Thomas students have raised over the years.

Up ’til Dawn is St. Jude’s student-led, nationwide philanthropic program. At St. Thomas, approximately 150 students gathered from midnight to dawn, participating in individual and team challenges and last-minute fundraising pushes in honor of the children and their families who seek cancer treatment at St. Jude. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, St. Jude’s mission is “to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.”

Of the $46,000 raised at St. Thomas, 80 percent goes directly to serving the children treated at St. Jude, who are never turned away because of a family’s inability to pay. With the money raised, St. Thomas covered five hours of physical therapy; seven chest X-rays; two days in the Intensive Care Unit; 10 days of chemotherapy; one week of oxygen; and five spinal taps for patients.

Reasons for participating in the event vary among St. Thomas students, from honoring a best friend fighting cancer to wanting to contribute to a cause they admire. Paige Pipal ’15, executive director of the student organization and an entrepreneurship major, explained why she participates: “For me, (Up ’til Dawn) means sacrificing a night of sleep in honor of families who are up all night worrying that their child may not survive or they might not be able to pay for (treatment). … It means really helping with what I can imagine would be one of the darkest times in a parent’s life.”

To participate in Up ’til Dawn, individuals must raise at least $100 before the event, although they can continue to raise funds afterward.

Led by coach Glenn Caruso’s love of St. Jude’s work and mission, the St. Thomas football team did its part to raise funds. Although they couldn’t attend the all-night event (something about a game the next day), players gathered after practice one evening to call and email friends and family for donations.

Some healthy competition ensued, Pipal recalled. Taunts such as “Well, I’m gonna raise more than you” flew across the room. In just 30 minutes, the team raised $2,000 and has since raised more than $12,000. “That was really cool to see,” Pipal said.

Pipal and 10 fellow students coordinated the Up ‘til Dawn event, working with Public Safety, Campus Life, STAR, a St. Jude representative and local businesses. Their roles took some Up ’til Dawn student leaders beyond the St. Paul city limits. Last summer, Pipal and another student attended the St. Jude Collegiate Leadership Seminar in Memphis. They toured the St. Jude campus; listened to organization leaders, including chief executive officer James Downing, M.D.; attended workshops on planning and executing the event; and, what was most memorable for Pipal, visited with St. Jude patients and their families.

“(Patient families) were honored to meet me, (as) I was supporting their child who I had never met. I was honored to meet them, (as) they had gone through this extraordinary thing and were still so humble,” Pipal said.

Yes, Up ’til Dawn is partly a social gathering. Students win fancy prizes and eat good food, all donated by local sponsors; however, the event is more than this. Whether a group decides to shave their heads in honor of patients or simply fights to stay awake as the first light of dawn appears, year after year, the Up ’til Dawn fundraising event cultivates solidarity and hope, uniting St. Thomas students with children fighting for their lives. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.