On Friday night, Circle Park was filled with light as 1,214 participants gathered for UT's 10th annual Relay for Life.
Drawing more than 4 million participants worldwide each year, the relay raises awareness and funding for the American Cancer Society and cancer research. According to the Relay for Life website, UT's event raised approximately $64,000 this year.
Beginning at 6 p.m., the relay kicked off with food and activity booths lining the celebration. An hour later, cancer survivors and "caregivers" embarked on the relay route around the park. In keeping with this year's theme, "When You Wish Upon a Cure," students came dressed like their favorite Disney characters.
All money raised will benefit the American Cancer Society, which works directly with patients like Bonnie Hufford, an instructor in journalism and electronic media and cancer survivor. Money from a Relay for Life event funded the development of a lifesaving medication that saved Hufford's life.
"I literally would not be here if that guy didn't develop that drug," she said.
Moved by this experience, Hufford is now the event's faculty adviser. For her, the relay's most important purpose is education.
"I think it is raising awareness of cancer overall," Hufford said. "I think (this) is a population where you think you're indestructible, but then we find out that we aren't."
The American Cancer Society, in addition to driving cancer research, acts as a support system for cancer patients. The organization provides housing when a patient needs to travel for treatment, in addition to initiatives like "Look Good, Feel Better," in which patients can seek tips from a cosmetologist after radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Meredith Gavin, an American Cancer Society specialist, has worked with the Relay for nine years in Ohio and Pennsylvania before arriving at UT this year.
After falling in love with Relay as a college student, Gavin decided to make it a career.
"I love college events personally because it's just the energy that the students bring to it," she said. "It's a lot more fun and upbeat. They stay up all night and are awake all night and it's a lot of fun to work with them."