The story of Sir Millard lives on through The Four Diamonds Fund and THON

You may know the legend of King Arthur, but chances are you do not know the story of Sir Millard, the evils he faced or the battles he won, even though every year, the new-age knights he has inspired take up his quest to battle pediatric cancer.

Every year, those champions, in the form of 15,000 Penn State student volunteers, fight their battle via year-long fundraising that culminates in THON weekend at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania. This weekend marks the forty-first annual THON dance marathon.

Sir Millard, a.k.a. Christopher Millard, penned his story called “The Four Diamonds” before he died of cancer at the age of 14 in 1972. He had no way of knowing the legacy he would leave behind.

The day he died at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, his parents, Charles and Irma Millard, started the Four Diamonds Fund to raise money to assist pediatric cancer patients and their families with expenses outside those insurance will cover while their children are undergoing treatment.

Photo of the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State during a THON weekend packed with dancers and supporters.

THON fills the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State for 46 hours of dancing, music and emotional excitement one weekend each year.

THON weekend is a celebration of the efforts of the volunteers–joined by their fellow students, Four Diamonds Families, and their many supporters–who dedicate their time to raising money and increasing awareness for pediatric cancer.

It is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, raising $89 million to date, more than $10 million last year alone. Participants hope to surpass $100 million with this year’s total, which exclusively benefits the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

In the early years, the majority of the money raised went directly to covering the cost of pediatric cancer care for the families. With the influx of funds over the years, 80 percent can now be dedicated to pediatric cancer research, while still taking care of all Children’s Hospital patients and their families who need the support. More than 3,000 children and adolescents have been supported in their own battles with cancer.

Penn State junior Katie Esarey, one of the Penn State student volunteers, says a particularly amazing THON moment is seeing the final fundraising number.

“It’s an incredible yet indescribable feeling to see the THON total,” Esarey said. “It’s nice to know how much the hard work throughout the year has paid off. It is even better to know who the millions help and the research that is being funded. Such an amazing feeling, I tear up every time I think about it.”

Other highlights of the THON weekend include a fashion show by Four Diamonds children featuring university attire, variety shows showcasing the talents of Four Diamonds kids and their siblings, and family hour recognizing all of the families, some of whom share their emotional stories and gratitude.

THON has inspired other universities, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools students across the nation to start dance marathons following the big THON model. According to Kinjal Mathur, Four Diamonds representative and recent Penn State graduate and THON alumni, more than 80 Four Diamonds Mini-THON events combined raised an additional $1.8 million for pediatric cancer last year. He finds it amazing that students of all ages want to join the cause.

“When I was eight years old, my biggest concern was if we were going to play football or soccer during recess,” Mathur said. “These kids are able to organize an event and work with their teachers and fellow students to raise $20,000 for kids with cancer.”
At least 100 Four Diamonds Mini-THONs are expected to take place within the next year. Among them are the Millards’ twin nieces, who have decided to organize a Mini-THON for their senior project in the Seattle, Washington area.

No matter what age, the volunteers benefit as greatly from their THON experiences as the Four Diamond families. “My involvement with THON has made my Penn State experience much more meaningful and has given my years here a purpose and direction,” said Michelle Simon, Penn State senior and THON volunteer. “It’s really powerful to be a part of such an inspiring cause that is completely student run and propelled by the goodness in young people’s hearts. It gives me hope for the future.”

For more information, visit To view the Why We Dance: The Story of Thon documentary, go to

By Jade Kelly Solovey

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