Class of 2018 tweaks traditional CWRU welcome with ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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In a day rich with tradition, the undergraduate Class of 2018 decided to do something entirely new.

First, of course, class members did all the classic annual events: they attended the formal welcome for first-year, exchange and transfer students, dined at the all-class barbecue on Freiberger Field, and then formed the traditional C-W-R-U letters for their class photo on DiSanto Field.

But they wanted more. After the camera clicked, the students grabbed the 1,300 large pails filled with 2,200 pounds of ice—or, by that time of the evening, very cold water. And then, all at once, they poured it over their heads.

Welcome to the Class of 2018’s take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral Internet sensation started last month that has drawn celebrity participants, ranging from Oprah Winfrey and LeBron James to Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. It also has attracted groups, among them the Cleveland Browns and the Ohio State University football team. As near as Case Western Reserve officials can tell, no other college or university had involved an entire class in the campaign, but now that the university’s first-year and transfer students have challenged those at Carnegie Mellon University, a new trend may emerge.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neurological disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As it advances, patients can experience muscle weakness and atrophy, and ultimately lose control of motor functions. The ALS Association leads national advocacy, provides support for patients and their families and invests in research.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge began as an informal effort among friends, but expanded dramatically after it reached Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball team captain now suffering from ALS with a particularly large and active network of supporters. Once Frates posted his video on Facebook, the floodgates exploded. Yesterday, the ALS Association announced it had raised $15.6 million between July 29 and Aug. 18, a figure nearly nine times the amount collected ($1.8 million) during the same period in 2013.

Case Western Reserve alumnus Dave Stuczynski (’85) played tight end/wide receiver for the Spartan football team and graduated with two all-time team records, career received yards (1,929) and single-game touchdowns (3). Now living with ALS, Stuczynski and his fundraising team, STU MAN Group, set the state record for the 2013 Walk to Defeat ALS,  collecting more than $100,000 to help defeat the disease.

The idea for the Class of 2018’s effort Monday night, meanwhile, came from CWRU Director of Admissions Bob McCullough, himself a double alumnus of the university. Within a few hours Monday morning, Cleveland Bottle & Supply Co. and Olmsted Ice pitched in to help sponsor the effort.

“The way our entire community responded to this idea exemplifies many of the best qualities of Case Western Reserve and Northeast Ohio, “ McCullough said.  “The concept was ambitious, quickly executed and full of a spirit of generosity.”

At the welcome earlier in the day, McCullough provided even more detail regarding the nature of this year’s entering class. They:

  •  hail from 47 states and 23 countries, and speak 49 different languages;
  • attended 911 high schools, whose graduating classes ranged in size from four—“and yes,” McCullough emphasized, we got the valedictorian”– to more than 2,000;
  • include six sets of twins; and
  • have “Andrew” as the most common first name for men, and “Rachel” as the most common among women.

Also during the ceremony, students and their parents heard from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Sheeler, the Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism and Media Writing. He recounted several of the assignments he had given students in his classes, as well as some of his own most memorable experiences as a reporter. Among them, he said, was an early piece regarding a 90-year-old philosopher from South Africa who would be giving a local lecture. Just before the talk, Sir Laurens Van Der Post asked to meet with Sheeler, who nervously began to detail his admiration and offered words about hoping to follow in Van Der Post’s footsteps.

“My dear man, look at your feet,” Sheeler recalled the philosopher saying. “You have perfectly good feet. They make perfectly good footsteps. Don’t follow. Make footsteps of your own.”

Sheeler then urged the students to look at their own feet—and urged them to make their own footsteps as well.