Austin Sommerer is a member of the Class of 2017 at Penn State University and will be attending commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 7 along with the rest of his classmates from the prestigious Smeal College of Business.

However the marketing major will need to take some classes this summer and won’t officially graduate until August.  Usually when you hear that you assume that a student had some academic issues but that is not the case with the 2013 Toms River East graduate.

You might have read or heard that this past weekend Penn State hosted its annual THON, a 46-hour quasi dance marathon that raises money to help the families of children battling cancer.  Sommerer was the executive director of this year’s mega-event which raised just over $10 million and concluded on Sunday.  The total was more than last year but $3 million less than the record set in 2014 when my daughter Alex was among the dancers who spent 46 consecutive hours on her feet.

Penn State has changed fundraising methods so this year’s total was indeed very impressive.

I know many of you believe I drink the Penn State Kool-Aid as the parent of two Nittany Lion graduates but the emotion of a THON weekend is something that you won’t find anywhere else.  It’s that which makes Sommerer’s achievement as this year’s “man in charge” truly amazing as this school year he ran what is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.  More than $147 million has been raised by Penn State students over the years and the job of executive director is equal to that of a corporate CEO.

For that reason Austin had to take a lighter course load so he could devote countless hours to organizational meetings and planning while overseeing 16 different committees.  He has been involved in THON since his freshman year serving in several leadership positions before landing the demanding position of executive director.  Being a part of something that benefits children with cancer is nothing new to the family. His father and my long-time friend Dr. Frank “Skip” Sommerer has been an active member and longtime supporter of Ocean of Love.

There is not enough time for me to truly explain the magnitude of what Sommerer has done over the last year but know this…it takes an extraordinary young man totally dedicated to helping others.  Now Austin can spend a little time helping himself get ready for the next phase of his life…that is after graduation.


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