“Cancer is not something that affects just the people who have it,” says Lafontaine. “It affects the whole community around them.”
To raise awareness of the disease, Lafontaine became involved as a first-year student with the Relay for Life of Syracuse University, a campus get-together aimed at raising funds for cancer research that’s part of a nationwide effort coordinated by the American Cancer Society. As co-chair of the Syracuse planning committee, Lafontaine helped organize one of the University’s largest student-run events, which drew roughly 2,000 students and raised more than $80,000 in its 12th edition in spring 2014. “It’s a great way to get everybody from Syracuse involved in one cause,” she says.
At the overnight event, teams of students walked around the turf in the Carrier Dome for 12 straight hours—from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.—as a symbol of their commitment to the fight against cancer. When they weren’t walking, students mingled on the field and participated in numerous games and activities, such as water-pong contests or Zumba lessons. Some set up tents to spend the night. And until 2 in the morning, student music and theater groups took the stage at one end of the football field. Khari Walser ’17, a fashion design major, performed with First Year Players, a musical theater organization for non-drama students, singing two songs from the rock musical Rent. But Relay for Life’s most emblematic attraction was the luminaria ceremony, where paper-bag lanterns were lit in remembrance of those who died of cancer, creating a bond among participants and organizers.
Danielle Kiejdan ’17, a television, radio, film major, attended Relay for Life with her Phi Sigma Sigma sorority sisters. Although it was her first relay at Syracuse, Kiejdan says she’d participated in similar events before. “I did it at my high school,” she says. Seeing one of his high school friends lose the battle to cancer inspired Nick Palmateer ’15, a biotechnology major, to take a stand and join the Relay for Life planning committee. Jamie Goldfarb ’15, a public health major, followed the path of her sister, who was part of the organization during her time at Syracuse. “She graduated a year before I came, so I took over her role,” she says.
For her part, Lafontaine describes Relay for Life as a joyful gathering that brings students together for a common purpose. “It’s a really fun event,” she says. “But it also has a great message.”