UI Dance Marathon might change your life

BY GUEST COLUMN | MAY 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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It took me four years to grow up. Saying my goodbyes to the University of Iowa, I hesitantly approach the next step in my life. I think it's safe for me to officially say, I'm a grown-up. As I look back over my four years, I found the true meaning of friendship, what inspires me to make a difference, and what it means to be me.

Between the classes and studying, I found time to get involved on campus. I found the UI Dance Marathon — an organization that truly changed my life. Dance Marathon helped me create friendships, develop an identity, and influenced my future plans.

I joined the organization when I was a freshman and now proudly represent it as an alumna. Not only does Dance Marathon raise millions of dollars to aid hundreds of families battling pediatric cancer, it affects the 2,000 student dancers involved. If someone asked you to be a part of something that would change your life, your response should be yes. As I look back at the past four years, I now realize that change I underwent.

Though I may be leaving UI behind, the journey will stay with me forever.

It wasn't until the fourth year in school that I truly understood the meaning of friendship. My last year in Dance Marathon, I applied and was selected to be a morale captain (a leader of student dancers) for Dance Marathon 18. I was one of 56 members on the morale-captain team. Together, we experienced an array of retreats where we went to deserted camps in the middle of the Iowa and shared stories of "why we dance" — a popular saying for Dance Marathon.

Huddled around a camp fire on cold nights, the 56 of us laid it all on the table and told passionate stories of family members and loved ones who lost their battles to cancer. These people became my family. I spend every waking hour with them because the bond we have is something that I've never experienced before. I tell them what I'm most scared of and laugh so hard that tears stream down my cheeks. Because of UI Dance Marathon, I now understand the true meaning of friendship: friends who are family.

After four years and help from some great friends, I found myself — something a lot of people growing up struggle with. I think of myself as a strong person who can see beauty in the ugly and embrace individuality and passion for life. The friends I have made during my time at Iowa have taught me one valuable lesson: Be yourself because you can't play make-believe your entire life.

After discovering my identity, I realized that my life goal had changed. I had planned on moving to a big city, working for a publishing company, and writing books on the side. It wasn't till my last year in school that I realized what I was meant to do.

When I was a sophomore, I decided to volunteer with the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Three years later, I work for Child Life as a child-life assistant, doing activities with kids in the pediatric units. Child Life gives these kids in the hospital an opportunity to be normal and have fun. I see the smiles on their faces every day, even though they are stuck in the hospital. To see these kids happy inspires me to make other children happy. After my experience with Dance Marathon and long talks with some child-life specialists, I have decided to pursue Child Life as a career. In July, I will move to the Windy City and attend grad school, aiming for a M.A. in child development.

Taking the next step in my life, I can't help but think of my time at Iowa. Four years ago, I walked into my dorm room as a young 19-year-old who was trying to find who she was; the UI gave me the opportunity to join Dance Marathon and meet some of the best people I know. Because of these people, I found who I am as a person. What I have become in the last four years is a person I am proud of — a person who is going to make a difference. As I move on to the next chapter, I will forever remember my time spent at Iowa, and I will forever be thankful to UI Dance Marathon because it truly changed my life.

Kari Bartelson
UI alumna

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