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(Photo credit: Joshua Sykes- Centre Daily Times)

Despite economic malaise and a crush of negative publicity about their university during the past four months, Penn State students raised a record $10.69 million to support families of children with cancer.

The exact amount, $10,686,924.83, was unveiled shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday at the end of the 46-hour IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon in the Bryce Jordan Center.

The 15,000-plus sleep-deprived students shrieked in amazement. They hugged one another. Some were too overcome with emotion and cried.

"It just goes to show you that when you have a passionate and dedicated group of individuals, the possibilities are limitless," said Overall Chairwoman Elaine Tanella during a news conference afterward. "It's really because of every person involved, no matter if they spent one hour volunteering in some capacity or they went on a canning trip or they knew someone in a corporation (and) had a contact there. It's really every effort (that) makes a difference."

The amount bested last year's then-record of $9.56 million and brings the total since 1977 to more than $89 million, according to CDT archives.

"It was such a nice ego boost to the community after all that's happened," said Kelsey Bonsell, of Allentown, after the announcement. "All this work — it does pay off."

Outside of the emotional revealing of that dollar amount, the highlight of the weekend filled with musical entertainment and camaraderie was an appearance Sunday afternoon by Jay Paterno. Students here should be known for their leadership in pulling off Thon and not the events surrounding the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, "none of which you had anything to do with," he told them.

"When the storm clouds gathered around this campus in November, a lot of people ran for the hills. Not the students, who were leaders of Thon. You stood your ground," said Paterno, who took the stage to a standing ovation and put on a blue Thon hoodie.

After former head football coach Joe Paterno's death last month, his family asked that memorial contributions be made to The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State's Hershey Children's Hospital, which administers the money Thon raises. The money goes to support the families of children treated for pediatric cancer as well as research for pediatric cancer. Tanella couldn't say how the Paternos' request affected fundraising, but she said it increased the public's awareness of Thon.

On the floor Sunday, the students' devotion to the event was easy to see. Each team had a unique T-shirt design and color with most sporting the names of The Four Diamonds Fund children they were representing.

In the stands, team members clustered together and created a sea of brightly colored splotches, like hot pink and neon yellow. They held up inspirational messages on posters to the dancers down below.

On the floor were the 708 dancers, who weren't required to dance the whole time but did have to stay on their feet and awake for the full 46 hours. Family members of many Four Diamonds children were among the supporters to keep them company.

Catherine Scott, of Camp Hill, the mother of 13-year-old Colleen Scott, attended her ninth Thon and seventh with the Penn State chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Her daughter was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor, which is a type of kidney cancer, in 2003.

Penn State students have given Colleen emotional support since the diagnosis, and The Four Diamonds Fund paid for any medical bills her insurance didn't cover.

Now, as Colleen is cancer-free, Thon is dear to the Scotts because its goal is advancing cancer research, Catherine Scott said.

"It means a different thing as you go along in the process," she said.

Dancing for the Scotts was Penn State senior Kelsey Ginck, of Northumberland. It was her first time dancing in Thon and she wasn't feeling tired Sunday morning.

"For me, it's about Colleen being here and celebrating this incredible normal life now," said Ginck, dressed in a dark purple T-shirt, Colleen's favorite color.

Others on the floor giving emotional to support to the dancers were people like Katie Brase, who was worried about her dancer leaving the floor and experiencing a drop in energy from which it would be difficult to recover.

Her tip: "You really have to keep moving — that's a big one," Brase said.

For many Thon participants, emotions peak during family hour, when families talk of their children's battle with cancer. Some survivors speak, too.

Vinny Carrano, brother of Four Diamonds child Lauren Carrano, fought off tears as he spoke of how his sister was diagnosed with leukemia at age 7 and died a few weeks after her ninth birthday in February 1996. That day, Carrano said, he arrived home from school expecting to visit her in the hospital with another sister, Ashley. Instead, they found their mother home from the hospital, her bags included. "The look on her face immediately gave it away," Carrano said.

"I'm now blessed to have her as my guardian angel. Lauren, I will love and miss you forever. And I thank you, Penn State, from the bottom of my heart for everything you've done," he said.

A tribute was also paid to Courtney O'Bryan, a Penn State freshman who was killed in December while on a canning trip in Buffalo, N.Y. O'Bryan's family announced a scholarship in her name on Saturday.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson also spent time at Thon each day this weekend.

"Thon represents the very best of Penn State students, their compassion and their character," he said. "I couldn't be more proud of everyone involved."

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