Northeastern University Relay for Life: A Night of Hope and Community

Matthews Arena fills up with rambunctious fans, athletes, parents, and rival teams on a weekly basiss but on March 24, 2023, students and faculty filled the space with a more intentional and sobering theme: raising money and the importance of cancer research. The event was attended by over 1,500 people and lasted from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., during which students played games, organizations performed, and people spoke about the impact cancer had on their lives.

  At 7 p.m. there was a survivor’s lap, where all cancer survivors walked together, a symbol of strength and resilience. One of those survivors was Planning, Real Estate, and Facilities’ very own Carla Morelli, who is a Senior Capital Projects Manager. She served as a Team Captain for PREF and helped the department raise over $2,300 for the cause, which is double their original goal of $1,000. This year was the first that PREF got involved with Relay for Life, partly because of Morelli’s daughter Corinne . She is a second-year criminal justice and psychology student who served as the athletics chair for Relay for Life, so she helped organize team fundraising and specialty games.    

“It meant a lot to me and it was important for her too,” Morelli said. “I was proud of her stepping up and taking a leadership role, you know, only being a second year. I thought that was a bold thing to do.”

Morelli admitted that PREF had a bit of a late start into the program, they only had three weeks to raise that money. In the future, Morelli hopes to get started earlier and do some fundraisers as a department.

The entire Northeastern relay for Life event raised over $140,000, making the university third for overall money raised, coming in after Virginia Tech and the University of South Carolina. Northeastern has the second most active registrants in the country.

“It’s really quite surreal. I think it really shows how much our hard work and dedication pays off,” said Jessica Richards, a fourth-year student who served as the recruitment and team development lead. “Being a campus leader, it means a lot knowing that not only are we doing something that’s so meaningful, but we’re also leading the way for other universities and campus events to look to us.”

The PREF team came in 16th place compared to other Northeastern teams. Many sororities and fraternities raised money, as did NUPD, alumni, sports teams and more. Some of the Northeastern sponsors include Star Market, Polar Seltzer, House of Blues, Boston Medical Center and Wings over Boston.

NU Breakers, Kinematix Dance Troupe, Unisons A Capella, NUDANCO, NU Dance Team and Revolve Dance Crew all performed. Students could also participate in lawn games, limbo, tug of war, a hula hoop contest and other bonding activities.


When Morelli arrived at the event, she felt a mix of emotions. Having gone into remission from her own cancer treatments six years ago, she doesn’t dwell in the cancer headspace. But after the opening ceremony when she participated in the survivors walk around the track and with so many openly emotional observers she couldn’t help but think back to that time of fear and uncertainty.

Afterward, she had the chance to attend a survivor’s dinner and had the opportunity to converse with students and colleagues that shared a similar experience.

“A lot of the students, through this activity, get to speak to other students who have either had cancer, who had parents or siblings or grandparents who have had cancer, or passed away from cancer or are undergoing treatment,” Morelli said. “So, it’s something they’re dealing with in their personal lives that they don’t tend to lead with when they have conversations on campus. It’s really a place for them to see their fellow students and say, ‘hey, I understand what you’ve been through.’”

At midnight, there was a luminaria ceremony where people have lanterns in honor of people they have lost or in recognition of people currently going through treatment.

Carla recognized the integral role from the Athletic Facilities and Central Events Services played in setting up the event. Dave Frazier, Sr Director of Athletic Facilities and Central Events, and his team had to cover the ice with subfloor, and the students worked alongside them to arrange tables, chairs, and stands. Frazier appreciated the eagerness of the participants who were involved with the committee, as they were more than willing to help.

“Relay for Life is one of our favorite events at Matthews Arena” Frazier said. “it’s one of those events where everybody has a feeling about it because, you know, cancer has touched family, friends, loved ones in one way or another,” Frazier said. “And so it really is something that we look forward to doing.” 

The event organizers have already started raising planning next year’s event and look forward to getting more students involved.

Written by Renee Abbott and Julia Laquerre

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