The university’s most successful philanthropy event, Wake ‘N Shake (WNS), powered through the complications of COVID-19 this past April 4, showing the dedication the university community has for fighting cancer.
Sponsored by the Office of Civic & Community Engagement (OCCE), WNS is an annual 12-hour dance marathon during which over 1,400 students come together and raise money for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research fund (and have fun while doing it). Historically, participants congregate in the Sutton Center to dance all day, enter raffles and listen to speeches given by “champions,” or inspiring individuals who are currently battling or have survived cancer, in honor of raising money for cancer research and spreading awareness among the community.
This is a cause that affects a large portion of the community, and it is something for which students and faculty alike have a deep passion. However, this year, the WNS student directors and executive board faced unprecedented circumstances as the country struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since the start of WNS in 2006, students and faculty would not be on campus and large groups over ten people would not be permitted by the federal government.
Instead of canceling the event and simply donating the money that had already been raised, senior WNS student directors Kylie Reed, Felton Hatcher and Mary Britton Anderson, along with the entire executive board, rose to the occasion and faced the challenge head on.
“When we got the news about Wake [Forest] canceling in person classes and therefore Wake ‘N Shake, we were obviously heartbroken,” Hatcher said. “This was something that we’d been working towards for almost a year.”
Yet, the student directors knew that they wanted to keep pushing forward.
“We wanted to make sure that the event would happen in some capacity, carrying the same traditions and bringing together the Wake Forest community in a time of uncertainty,” Hatcher said.
Anderson also hoped to create a meaningful experience for many, including alumni who are usually unable to participate in the dance marathon at the university, through the new remote format allowing everyone to tune in from across the country and world.
“We needed to shift our perspective,” Anderson said. “We made the decision to view ‘going virtual’ as an awesome opportunity to not only reach a whole new cohort of people who wouldn’t be able to attend in person, but it also gave us the opportunity to bring a part of Wake Forest home to everyone during this time.”
From that point on, it was up to the WNS executive board to figure out a plan for “going virtual” and the best strategy for doing so.
“We tossed around several ideas — even doing a massive 1,200-person Zoom,” Reed said. “But we quickly realized that, because of the scale of our event, certain things just weren’t feasible.”
They decided to reach out to the Dance Marathon leaders at the University of Michigan for advice, and they shared their experience of trying to do a Dance Marathon during a pandemic. Reed, Hatcher and Anderson then worked with the executive board to come up with an hourly posting schedule, where they would share pre-recorded content and do a livestream for the closing ceremony during the final hour of the event.
“Once we tapped into the full potential of our incredible marketing and tech co-chairs, we knew that using social media in an interactive platform was the way to go,” Reed said.
The event kicked off with a video of Reed, Anderson and Hatcher introducing the event and commentary from President Nathan Hatch.
“In the spirit of Pro Humanitate, you have united together for a common goal that is bigger than yourselves,” Hatch said. “With perseverance, you have made it possible to continue to give back to our community.”
After this first hour, the theme hours began. The Wellbeing Hour, the Faculty and Staff Hour, the Athletics Hour, the Flashback Hour, the Birthday Hour (this is the event’s 15th anniversary), the Music Hour, the Alumni Hour, the Fundraising Hour, the Hospitality Hour and the Dance Hour were filled with various videos and engaging content over the course of the day.
Additionally, touching videos from doctors, Brian Piccolo’s family, faculty, a cappella groups, Coach Clawson, Momentum Crew, music from student DJ Cogi and the WNS executive board were shared throughout the day.
There were also four champions introduced over the course of 11 hours, and their stories were posted on Instagram and Facebook. The speakers throughout the day were Mr. Andy Tuttle, Ms. Lisa LaRoque, Ms. Sarah McAuley and Ms. EmmaLee Watkins.
At 12:30 p.m., the “Support with Sports” challenge occurred, during which participants were encouraged to post a trick shot with a roll of toilet paper for a chance to win a signed Falcons football. At 2:45 p.m., a “Morale Tik Tok” challenge was introduced, during which participants shared videos of them dancing to Katy Perry’s “Roar” for a chance to win an Apple Watch. Finally, at 5:30 p.m., there was a “Pig out for Piccolo” challenge, during which participants completed the ‘oreo on the face challenge’ for a chance to win a class workout series with F45 Fitness.
The event was fun and engaging, according to senior Madeline Fleming, who virtually participated in WNS throughout the day.
“Many of my friends are on the executive board, and I was really excited to hear the speakers,” Fleming said. “I have seen and heard how hard the executive board, committee members and other coordinators have worked for the past year to plan and execute this amazing fundraiser, so of course I wanted to participate!”
Fleming even won the “Morale Tik Tok” challenge, and is now the owner of a new Apple Watch.
The final hour, which took place between 8 and 9 p.m., was a virtual reenactment of the traditional last part of WNS. This is the time for participants to reflect about the impact that cancer has had in their lives.
Senior Philip Yurchenko was this year’s Final Hour champion speaker. He shared his story of dealing with cancer and provided five touching lessons on how to lead a life that is meaningful and positive.
At the end of the hour, Anderson, Reed and Hatcher appeared on Facebook Live to encourage viewers to check WNS’s Instagram page for the final amount of money raised for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund. The grand fundraising total was $383,550.29, which will go directly to cancer research.
The event was a huge success. Not only has the Wake Forest community created efforts that will help those battling cancer, but WNS can be seen as a beacon of hope and togetherness during such an uncertain time.
“What I think really inspired us to have the event was the fact that cancer does not stop,” Anderson said. “Just because there is a pandemic and a recession, doesn’t mean cancer takes a pause. Just as people are being diagnosed daily with COVID-19, so are people being diagnosed with cancer. That really inspired us to make the efforts to keep this event alive to honor Brian Piccolo and all of those affected by cancer.”