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Virginia Tech’s motto is “Ut Prosim,” which is Latin for “that I may serve.” Hokie Nation lives up to this every day of every year. My favorite examples of Ut Prosim in action are our annual day of service, The Big Event, and Relay for Life.

The Big Event originated at Texas A&M in 1982 and spread to VT twenty years later. It is “one big day, one big thanks” as hundreds of Hokies team up to serve the Blacksburg community. With over 6,500 student volunteers and 825 projects in 2013, VT is home to the nation’s second largest Big Event (behind A&M, of course).

Big Event 2013

Big Event 2013 kicks off at Virginia Tech

This year’s Big Event took place March 30. It’s a great way to kick off the spring in Blacksburg as we spend all morning and most of the afternoon out working in the community. My Big Event experience my sophomore year was especially memorable. Four friends and I spent the morning ridding an elderly couple’s yard of excess leaves and sweet gum balls. As thanks for our work, the husband made us delicious Reuben sandwiches for lunch. I had never had a Reuben before, and my first experience was a good one. The couple sat outside and ate with us, and we shared stories about our childhoods, families, homes and studies. My friends and I were so fortunate to spend our day with such a wonderful couple.  They didn’t have to make us lunch, but they were generous and kind, and we couldn’t thank them enough.

VT’s Relay for Life—which is the largest college Relay event in the country—takes places a few weeks later in mid-April.  Thousands of students set up camp on our drillfield and take turns walking laps around the track as we relay all night for the fight against cancer. Tribute videos showcase stories from survivors and participating students who relay in honor of a family member or friend who fought cancer. There are themed laps, in which walkers dress to match the theme and walk in costume for that hour.

My personal favorite Relay event is “Queen of the Night.” Guys volunteer to dress as ladies and have one hour to go downtown and collect donations. It’s hilarious to see fifteen men squeezed into girls’ dresses on a portable stage before thousands of their peers, but they do it for a wonderful cause.

Relay for Life 2012

Virginia Tech’s Relay for Life is the largest college Relay event in the country!

Whether friend or family, everyone has someone to relay for. Last year, a close friend of mine hung photos of her two grandfathers at our campsite. One man fought cancer and survived, but the other lost his battle. Both of her photos were featured in a tribute video later in the night. When my friend saw her photos, especially of her deceased grandfather, she said quietly, “That’s my grandpa, y’all. That’s my grandpa.” Then she cried. That was the first and only time I have ever seen her cry.

What strikes me most about Relay for Life is how dedicated participants are, and how passionate we are about the cause. Local businesses even get involved. Moe’s in Blacksburg and Gobble Cakes, our gourmet cupcake bakery, offer proceeds toward Relay for the weeks leading up to the event. Thanks to all participants, we raised over $550,000 at last count, and that number is still growing.

Dedication to service and upholding the value of “Ut Prosim” really drew me into Virginia Tech when I first visited. Now I am proud to say that I uphold that value each and every day. The Big Event and Relay for Life inspire me and thousands of others to show our community and nation how we can help someone else, whether through walking a lap or picking sweet gum balls from a neighbor’s yard.

hokiebird-238x238Kate Robertson is a features writer for Pretty Southern, and a rising senior at Virginia Tech, studying communication and English. Originally form Atlanta, Kate plans to graduate in 2014 to launch a professional career in writing and public relations. Follow her on Twitter @kate3robertson.