Special musicians, Dance-Dance Revolution, featured speakers, a mock body combat class, inflatables, minute-to-win-it games and, of course, dancing filled the Sutton Center on Saturday, March 24 as over 1,400 students participated in the 13th annual Wake ‘N Shake.
Wake ‘N Shake, a 12-hour dance marathon, is one of Wake Forest’s largest fundraising events along with Hit the Bricks, which both benefit the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund. By the conclusion of the evening, a total of $376,730.29 had been raised from participant fundraising and corporate donations. This qualifies this year’s event as the most successful yet, showing extensive growth from the first Wake ‘N Shake in 2005, that raised $30,000 with only 300 dancers.
Over 200 students serving on 10 different committees plus the 39 students on the Executive Board worked to plan and organize to make the event possible.
Throughout the event, nine speakers currently fighting cancer or who have already won the battle, called “Champions,” shared their stories. This year, Wake ‘N Shake’s theme was “Dancing Through the Decades.” Each Champion speaker served as a representative for each of the decade teams of either the 20’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s or the future. Team Champions for this year’s Wake N’ Shake were: Wake Forest Tri Delta alumni Helen Adair King and Laura McKenna, community member Laura Beaty, author Robert Lipsyte, local elementary school teacher Melody Hayes, IT specialist Manuel Garcia, board chair of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Lisa Rhoades, Wake Forest parent Doug Hotvedt and current sophomore Grace Franzese.
Executive Member junior Kaela Griswold served alongside her co-chairs senior Mackenzie Adams, sophomore Mary Britton Anderson and senior Lauren Ziereis on the Champion Relations committee. This team worked very closely with the nine champions throughout the past several months to ensure they were each prepared to speak on Saturday and that the logistics of their experience at Wake ‘N Shake would be seamless.
Griswold considers the opportunity to get to know and support the Champions throughout the semester a blessing, remembering the role the Champions play.
“The Champion’s speeches about their cancer journeys serve as daily reminders and inspiration of why we do Wake ‘N Shake and what an impact it has,” Griswold said.
Freshman Harrison Stone appreciated the Champions element of the program, saying that hearing the stories of those affected by cancer made him “recognize that what we were doing mattered, as the stories of the Champions who had battled cancer gave the event a more intimate, personalized touch that inspired everyone to keep dancing into the night.”
Hearing the Champions share their stories was surpassingly special for one student in particular. Sophomore Rachel Hotvedt’s father, Doug, was invited as a featured speaker. Hotvedt, who is still currently fighting his battle with cancer, and his wife flew down from Bloomington, MN for the weekend to speak at the event and spend time with their daughter.
Overwhelmed by emotion as her father took the stage and captivated the crowd, Rachel realized how grateful she was that her dad was healthy enough to make it for the weekend, knowing that his testimony was bound to impact others.
“It is difficult to articulate the pride I felt as I watched his words touch the hearts of so many,” Rachel said. “I have been overwhelmed by the love and support that my family has received in the last 24 hours. This sense of community established by events like Wake ‘N Shake is what makes me proud to be a Demon Deacon.”
Also striking a personal note was the student speaker, sophomore Grace Franzese, who slowed things down as the last Champion of the night. Many around campus know Franzese as a Lilting Banshee, Tri Delta and English major who always has a smile on her face, but a closer look will reveal her childhood battle with osteosarcoma. Now five years clean, and therefore officially cured, Franzese commanded the stage with an emotional testimony of her battle.
“The students of this school gave so much to [Wake ‘N Shake], and this was what I could give that they couldn’t,” Franzese said. “I felt like I owed it to them as much as I owed it to myself and other survivors and patients out there. I’m honored to have done my part, and so grateful that so many did theirs.”
Franzese has been overwhelmed by the number of students she doesn’t know that have come up to her since Saturday and expressed their gratitude for how her story touched them.
With the clock quickly approaching midnight, students began to reflect upon the need for unity in the continued fight against cancer.
“Seeing the entire WFU community come together, forming a giant circle around the gym, gave me chills,” Harrison Stone said. “Arm-in-arm, glow sticks in hand, singing and counting our way down to midnight, we embraced each other as one unified community with a single goal: to fight cancer. It’s moments like these that remind me how special of a place Wake Forest is.”