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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

Relay It Forward

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(4/2014) "Pay It Forward" is typically seen as receiving a favor and then proceeding to do someone else a favor, with the hope that everyone will continue to pass on a good deed. As a result of this continuous good action, the world becomes a better place, with people doing things out of the kindness of their hearts. This idea, especially if the chain continues to grow, has the potential to spread so much happiness and love to the world because people will slow down and focus on others. The influence of this concept is everywhere. There is the movie, "Pay It Forward," which, for the record, made me cry all the way through. There are theme days and weeks at schools everywhere where students take the time to pass on acts of kindness while working against bullying and exclusion. There are social media pages simply dedicated to sharing acts of kindness from around the world – unusual favors that people document to encourage others to do the same. All of these embody the spirit of the "Pay It Forward" concept and help to promote this kindness.

There is, however, another way that "Pay It Forward" can be taken – more along the lines of making an impact. I witnessed this kind of paying it forward at the Mount St. Mary’s University Relay for Life. Relay for Life works to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The event serves as a night of remembrance for those who have lost loved ones to cancer and a night of celebration of life for those who have beaten the disease. Mount St. Mary’s Relay for Life as a whole literally "Paid It Forward" by raising over $26,000 for cancer research. However, much more went on that night than simply raising funds. Instead of just paying forward money, a donation, or a favor, everyone there paid a memory and an impact forward.

Everyone involved had been or is now a "caregiver" for someone battling cancer. These caregivers are parents, friends, classmates and anyone whose life has been impacted by someone’s diagnosis. Maybe it was the loss of a loved one, or maybe the strength they saw in the fight, but somehow cancer has changed their lives. Instead of sitting back and moving on or letting it ruin their spirit, everyone there that night chose to fight back against this terrible disease. This was their unique way of paying it forward. They felt a desire to take how they had been impacted and use it to impact others, to remember those who have passed, to celebrate the lives of cancer fighters, and to join the ongoing struggle against cancer.

There night consisted of games, dancing, karaoke, and much more. There were groups making friendship bracelets, selling cake pops, and all kinds of other creative prizes and snacks. There was non-stop walking around the track and high levels of energy everywhere. There was candy and soda to help participants stay awake, but most importantly there was hope. The night started with a speech by a Mount St. Mary’s student who is a cancer survivor. She shared her story and talked about everyone who stood by her side, shaved their heads with her, and didn’t lose faith in her fight. She took all the help she has received and all the love she has felt and shared it with everyone. She paid it forward by sharing her testimony with everyone there that night, and inspired us to continue the fight against cancer.

Another instance of paying it forward that night took place in a jail cell. Yes, you read that right – a jail cell. One set up by the Women in Science Relay team as a way to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Relayers could put friends into jail for any amount of money, and the people in jail weren’t allowed out until they could match that amount either from people walking by or other friends in jail. I actually made a few friends in jail that night. One such friend, a seminarian I was trapped with, raised over 40 dollars after being locked up for hour. As you can imagine, a lot of people got to pay it forward in the form of some light-hearted revenge once they were released.

The night was long, but I was surrounded by acts of kindness and love the whole time. "Pay It Forward" gained a whole new meaning to me, and I’m sure it did to everyone else as well. The final act was at the end of the festivities, just as the sun began to rise. Everyone got a balloon, and even though a bunch popped along the way, eventually everyone there dedicated their balloon to someone who they knew or know with cancer. Some people had multiple names on their balloon, and others had only one, but each balloon was dedicated to a loved one. We all gathered outside for the balloon release, with each balloon representing the love that each person was going to pay forward. In some way, that balloon release was in itself the perfect depiction of paying it forward, because everybody was focused on someone other than themselves as the balloons disappeared.

Even though it may not be the textbook description of the "Pay It Forward" chain, and even though the focus wasn’t on tangible forms of favors throughout the night, every person involved paid hope and love forward that night in the hopes that all those involved in the fight against cancer felt the impact.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary