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Leah Potkin: Coming together for a cause

BY LEAH POTKIN

Published April 15, 2010

I spent this past Saturday behind bars — raising money for cancer research. The rules were simple. My friend put me in a makeshift jail for a small donation of $5, and I had a half hour of cell time to beg passersby to match this donation and bail me out. From 12:26 to 12:50 I stood with an outstretched arm, begging for a few cents to be dropped into my red solo cup. Thankfully, I succeeded, and was released onto the track surrounding Palmer Field to take my first lap as a participant in the annual Relay for Life event to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Palmer Field was lined with tents and booths of different teams, all working together to fight the battle against cancer. The event began at 10 a.m. Saturday, and for 24 hours, participants walked and ran around the track, making frequent pit stops at the booths along the way. Some highlights included the '90s TV trivia station, the tie-dye station, the energy drink flip cup table and, of course, the jail. With each completed lap I was increasingly impressed with the capabilities of the University’s student body, as it became clear that Wolverines succeed not only as individual organizations, but also when they band together working as a larger community.

As a sorority member and an active participant in campus Greek Life, I am well aware of the many benefits a community atmosphere offers. Between philanthropic events and community support, Michigan Greek Life succeeds in raising money for different organizations worldwide. Greek Life was of course a presence on Palmer Field on Saturday, but so were countless other student organizations. While I am accustomed to seeing how the Greek community can work together, I wasn’t used to seeing organizations ranging from the Michigan Electronic Dance Organization, to the football team, to Team MoJo all working collectively toward a common goal — and it was truly something remarkable.

At such a large university, there are obviously countless ways to get involved. While this has its obvious advantages, the drawback is that with so many organizations, students are blind to most throughout the entirety of their years here. Sure, we get the Facebook messages and event invites, but we never really know more than an organization’s name (maybe slightly more if we take the time to read the chalk writing in the Diag or are kind enough to take a flyer from a poor soul handing them out in front of the Grad). But let’s be honest: For the most part, we're all immersed in our own organizations and rarely take time to work together or appreciate each others’ efforts. Relay for Life, however, succeeds in pulling off an event that joins the jocks, nerds, frat boys, nurses, dancers and countless others to fight for a common cause and learn about each other in the process.

Not only was I not bored for even a second at Relay, but seeing people all so enthusiastic about the same thing also made me feel like I was really a part of something. Call me crazy, but I was so in awe of the whole event that I even (voluntarily) came back to see what the atmosphere was like at 4 a.m. As I walked around the candlelit track (after dark there is a Luminaria Ceremony where names of people touched by cancer are written on bags with candles inside and placed along the track) I felt an overwhelming sense of unity, as Relayers took turns sleeping in tents and walking the track, showing not only their dedication to the fight against cancer, but their dedication and support for each other too (as all teams had members participating throughout the 24-hour period).

Since I first set foot on campus, I have known that the University is an amazing school with an amazing student body, and participating in this event only further confirmed this belief. Students should take time to recognize not only their own organizations, but those of others as well, as we all need each others' support in order to function most effectively as a community. I urge all students to take this advice. But if nothing else, I urge everyone to get their own team together and participate in this event next year. And if you’re really generous, dropping a few cents in my solo cup to bail me out of jail would be much appreciated.

Leah can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.