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Director’s Message



  • Author:
    W. Scott Westerman III
  • Published:
    Winter 2014

THE SKYWRITING MIRACLE

It began when I was in a taxi cab in Washington, DC, on my way to the DC Spartans’ Green & White Scholarship Gala. Checking my Facebook feed on my smartphone, I saw many posts with pictures of the “Go Blue” skywriting.

Why were Spartans posting this?

It turned out the “Go Blue” was written in smoke over Spartan Stadium before the game against Youngstown State.

As I started to read the comments, I worried that the conversation might deteriorate, as these things often do, into something that would negatively reflect on our Spartan Nation. Then I glanced at my wrist. I have worn a teal bracelet there for over four years as a celebration of my wife Colleen and her battle with ovarian cancer. It began just as I was starting my service with the MSU Alumni Association. She was saved by extraordinary doctors at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, who beat back the monster with Cisplatin, the miracle chemotherapy drug invented here at Michigan State (see the cover story, Spring 2011).

Why not use this sky writing incident as an opportunity to show how our two schools could continue this collaboration?

I tapped out a message challenging Spartans to respond by donating to the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance, MIOCA, which is located in Ann Arbor. I copied the message into the comment section of every “Go Blue” picture I could find.

The DC gala raised thousands for the club’s scholarship fund and it felt great being surrounded by the magic of Spartans helping Spartans. Returning to my hotel, I was astounded by an email from Pam Dahlmann, the executive director of MIOCA, who reported that donations had been so numerous it crashed their PayPal site. “We’ll fix it,” wrote this UM alumna. “Keep it up!”

Thus began what has been dubbed “The Sky Writing Miracle.” By Sunday evening, Spartans were contributing $1,000 per hour to MIOCA. They were passing the message on to other Spartans. By Monday afternoon, this phenomenon had spread across both Twitter And Facebook and vaulted over to the mainstream media. I spoke with Mlive.com, the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, our own State News and the Lansing State Journal. All three local TV stations covered the story, including WKAR’s Current State, and it generated plenty of conversation in sports talk programs.

The high road that our Spartan Family had embraced was snowballing. The Associated Press got the story out, spreading to dozens of news sites across the country. ESPN, CBS and ABC all cheered this new approach to rivalry.

By halftime of the Notre Dame game, we had raised over $37,000. Beyond the money, awareness about this silent killer had grown. Tens of thousands learned about the test that women can take to see if they have a BRCA gene mutation that might be a future cancer predictor and the hope that ovarian cancer research, happening right here at MSU, can provide. I received letters and emails from survivors, care givers and people who had lost family members. One young woman wrote, “I was always afraid to get tested for the gene mutation. Seeing the strength of our MSU family has given me the courage to do it.”

We learned a lot about the power of social media and about more productive alternatives to I’m-better-than-you chest pounding. We showed that we can be the best we can be without degrading our rivals. We demonstrated that with a powerful, positive message, we can get the world’s attention. We can even rally people who aren’t always our fans to take positive action.

In the end, led by Spartans, hundreds around the world helped raise over $42,000 for MIOCA, a small group of courageous women who are tackling a huge challenge.

I congratulate Spartan Nation for making possible the Skywriting Miracle. It perfectly fits a theme in this issue of the MSU Alumni Magazine about what it means to be a Spartan.

W. Scott Westerman III, ’78
Executive Director, MSU Alumni Association