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A Toast to Diamonds --PSU Alumni Event

 Benefitting the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State's Hershey Children's Hospital

January 22, 2016 Hershey, Pennsylvania

It is great to be back in Hershey and back at this event to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund again. It has been a few years since I was last here but in the intervening time the fight against pediatric cancer remains—the scourge still lives and so we fight on—that is what we do.


I also want to take a moment to mention Tally Sepot a 19 year old Penn State student who was killed in an accident returning from a canning trip this past September--a weekend spent in selfless service. She lost her life on a trip to save the lives of others and while tragic it was indeed a noble life that ended way too early but a life ended in a higher purpose. I hope that all these months later that her friends and family can find solace in the goodness in her heart and in her soul knowing that her efforts that weekend may ultimately save the lives of other young people.


The students at Penn State and their efforts for THON make all Penn Staters proud. Let me say something about the term Penn Stater.


Lately I have been reading a lot of legal filings and one thing they always do is define certain terms at the outset so allow me to define one term you will hear repeatedly tonight:


Penn Stater—someone sharing and living the values of Penn State: including but not limited to: Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Honor, Love of Penn State and Philanthropy. These are Penn State values forged over generations not a list created by a PR firm and focus group to be sent out in a press release. Also note that one need not have a degree from Penn State to be a Penn Stater and that holding a Penn State degree does not automatically make one a Penn Stater.


Now that we’ve defined that I can begin.


Tonight I want to begin with words from Ralph Waldo Emerson who described what success in life meant:


“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life

has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. “


What brings us all here tonight? Deep down what truly brings us here tonight? Certainly at a Beer, Wine and Chocolate tasting event it is a love of beer or wine or chocolate. But I think it is the last line of what Emerson said:


“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”


That is what brings us here tonight. This is what makes us Penn Staters, it is the best of our humanity shining through when we help others.


Without getting into the difficult politics of some of these issues I will say this: we live in the wealthiest nation on earth. Even here in the richest nation on earth there is disparity in access to and in affordability of health care.


For some access to and the ability to pay for the best care in the world is not a problem. For other parents or guardians they worry at night in the darkest hours praying they never have to make the difficult choices that come with a child who becomes sick with a life threatening illness like cancer.


But cancer knows no boundaries. It cuts across the lines of age, race, religion and socioeconomics. It comes unannounced and threatens the lives of those it afflicts.


In children this is even more pronounced. It robs them of the core of what childhood should be; a time of laughter, learning and loving—not t-cell counts painful treatments and radiation or chemo.

For people in this country a child’s destiny, that child’s ability to fight and survive cancer should not be reliant upon where they live or how much their parents earn.


That is one of the things that makes The Four Diamonds Fund so beautiful. It affords everyone the means to fight back.


Cancer is not a journey that anyone walks alone. While the child must pay the physical and emotional toll of the fight, the family fights emotionally as well. There are pressures and worries about the costs of treatment that they must bear. The Four Diamonds Fund and the Penn State Students in THON and you in this room help alleviate the worries, the burdens from the family. They can breathe easier and gather all their energy and teamwork to a singular focus----winning the fight together.


I spent two decades coaching so I know a thing or two about teamwork and about fights. When we were focused and intense and could eliminate all the outside worries and distractions we were at our best and we won.


Your support allows the team at the Hershey Children’s Hospital to do their work on the research side and each child’s team battling cancer to summon an intense focus on the fight without worrying about the outside distractions of funding and paying the bills.


The Four Diamonds Fund is the best of our country—where the government may fall short in being able to insure care for every citizen—it is the charitable nature of being an American citizen that brings us together to make programs like The Four Diamonds Fund Possible.


It is in bending to lend a hand to help others up where we as a people stand tallest.


The Four Diamonds Fund is a beacon of Hope—and I love that word. Hope is a word that has many meanings and uses. It is part of our individual faiths, or maybe it is just a concept that we hold fast to devoid of religion. No matter what way you perceive Hope it is very real and it is a driving force for so much good in the world.


One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. It centers on Andy Dufresne a man wrongly accused and convicted of murder who spends decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.


In the movie he says:  “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.”

In the movie he works every night for years to slowly but surely plot an escape. He digs a tunnel just inches at a time—patient so that he would not get caught and always with a hopeful eye towards the future when he would escape.


It was Hope that gave him the strength to dig. It was Hope that on the night he escaped allowed him to crawl through 500 yards of sewer pipe. But in the end of those long years, after his escape Andy ended up a free man and driving along the sunny Pacific shores of Mexico.


That is the Hope that is needed to fight cancer. Your presence here helps provide that to Four Diamonds Families. While the character in the Shawshank Redemption’s story was fictional the fight for these young people is real.


Many of us, if not most of us, have been fortunate to have healthy children. We’ve not had to sit in front of an oncologist listening to the options for our child’s treatment.


Yet we are here. Why? Because these are the values we espouse as a country and certainly as Penn Staters. I am reminded of something  First Lady Michelle Obama said:


“If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune. Because that is not what we do in this country. That is not who we are.” 

How can any of us be fully content if we know that there are others struggling, that there are children somewhere in a hospital room awaiting treatment, bearing pain that would make most of us as adults want to run and hide.


We are here to make them breathe easier.


The last time I was here I learned that the pediatric cancer survival rate is now 4 out of 5. That was a higher number than I expected so I left here thinking that 4 out of 5 was something positive. That night I drove home like I will tonight. When I got home I walked down the hall to see all 5 of my children sleeping in their beds and then 4 out of 5 hit me.


Which of my 5 children could I bear to lose?


That was when I realized how mad I should be about 4 out of 5. I was focusing only on the 4 and not the 1 out of 5.


As a coach if we won 4 out of 5 games you can bet we would dwell on everything that went wrong in that loss. We would learn everything we could from that loss and fight to make sure we did not lose again.


That is our challenge tonight. To focus on the 1 in 5 who do not make it—to do something no matter how small to dig that tunnel to the other side when the survival rate will be 5 out of 5.  

It seems like a daunting task—something that may be impossible. But as we look at the great challenges before us in life we have one of two choices. We can be intimidated fold by a huge challenge and fold believing it is pointless to fight a battle we may not win—or we choose to step forward a little bit every day.


That is what the children in the hospital do and so you too have done by your presence here and your support of this cause.


While I have quoted a fictional character wrongly imprisoned let me quote another man—one who lived and breathed and was imprisoned unjustly for decades. Nelson Mandela wrote:


“I am fundamentally an optimist. Part of being an optimist is keeping one's head pointed towards the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat…..”


So tonight your presence here labels you an optimist. It puts you on the journey with Four Diamonds Families and Children. They keep their heads pointed towards the sun, their feet moving forward and you are doing the same.


We will not give in to despair. Someday, God willing, we will insure they all make it through the darkness to bask in the sunlight of victory over cancer once and for all.


So I come back to the question I started with—What brings us here?


What brings tens of thousands of Penn Staters all over the country together in common cause? It is hope, it is optimism, it in the pride of standing tall by lifting others.


That is one of the great traditions of Penn State one taught by visionary leadership across decades.


What brings us here tonight? Deep down it is in the foundational bedrock values we hold: Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Honor, Love of Penn State and Service to others-values learned because we live them.


What brings us here tonight? It is what Emerson mentioned—the yearning to truly succeed in life—and tonight know that you have because your support even at its simplest level has made not just one life but many lives of young children and their families breathe easier.


Thank You.

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