Principal Timothy Yawney (left), relay committee Chair Brianna Porier, Wellington CDSB Director of Education Don Drone at the third annual St. James Catholic High School Relay for Life in Guelph, Ont. Photo by Francis Olaer

Students rally at Relay for Life

By  Francis Olaer, Youth Speak News
  • June 14, 2013

GUELPH, ONT. - More than 200 students, teachers, volunteers and cancer survivors joined forces on June 7 at St. James Catholic High School’s third annual Relay for Life.

Amid a bittersweet atmosphere of cheer and tears, they participated in a two-day event to raise money to fight cancer.

From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., student team members were assigned a time to be on the school’s improvised indoor track to ensure someone would always be walking in the relay during the night. The event was organized by students.

In the past two relays, St. James has raised $25,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.

“Your body is exhausted, yet your mind keeps persevering to move forward; it gives us a small glimpse into the suffering of those diagnosed with cancer,” said Grade 11 student, Iryna Humenyuk.

“As Catholic graduates, we are taught to put others before ourselves and be responsible citizens. This event allows us an opportunity to help and communicate compassion,” said Grade 12 student Kira Jones.

The event opened with a prayer and a reflection by Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Matthew Ustrzycki of the Diocese of Hamilton, who shared his personal experience with cancer and imparted a message of hope.

“Sixteen years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. Here I am today...In our darkest moments, we crave and we find Jesus,” he said. The bishop then emphasized hope and charity in the context of the event’s theme that “You are your brother’s keeper.”

The bishop was followed by Wellington Catholic District School Board Director of Education Don Drone, who later commented that “this school and this school board always has compassion towards the vulnerable.”

Recognizing the efforts of the student relay committee, he said, “In the last five or six years, especially in cases where students are directly affected, students have begun taking the initiative. It’s a positive trend and I am glad that young people are willing and able to take the risk and put in the effort to hold these events.”

As the opening ceremony came to a close, cancer survivors led the first walk around the designated track.

“We are given the choice to embrace life. It is the reason Christ redeemed us,” said Principal Timothy Yawney. “They are walking miracles.”

The event was a cross between a slumber party and a summer camp, complete with karaoke and a tug of war. Younger members of the staff were seen competing in games themselves and relay participants spruced up their walk byplaying various instruments.

Relay for Life committee chair and three-time relay participant Brianna Porier, Grade 12, described the turnout as “an overwhelming response from the community... Seeing the community and our students raise $14,000 is incredible.”

First-time relay participants such as student council teacher supervisor Janine Stanlick saw the event as “an opportunity for community involvement and a chance to put Catholic school lessons to action.”

Yet, despite the revelry of the relay, the question of “why” cancer occurs weighed on the minds of participants. Religion teacher Alicja Reynolds offered a sombre thought: “God has a plan for each of us, most of it is beyond our comprehension, but at the end of the day, we must find peace with it.”

(Francis Olaer, 18, is a Grade 12 student of St. James CHS in Guelph, Ont.)

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