U.Va. graduates donate 1,500 balloons to University Children’s Hospital

Donations meant to brighten children’s day and decrease environmental waste

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Graduating University students traditionally bring and release balloons during graduation festivities. Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

For the first time ever, graduating students were given the opportunity to donate balloons — which students traditionally bring and release during graduation festivities — to the U.Va. Children’s Hospital.

The donation effort, which was first thought up by President Jim Ryan’s office, collected around 1,500 balloons. The student and staff volunteers — who dubbed themselves “The Balloon Brigade” — included Matt Weber, a senior assistant to President Ryan.

Weber described the event as “a lot of fun,” noting that they heard several jokes about the Disney movie “Up.”  

“[We tried] to live out Pres. Ryan’s challenge of being both great and good in what we do,” Weber said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The event, which was organized only a week before Final Exercises May 18 and 19, was met with enthusiasm on many sides.

“I called the hospital to make sure we could in fact donate balloons there [...] they were ecstatic and great to partner with on this whole initiative — in fact everyone was, from Facilities, student volunteers, President Ryan, the Events team, to most importantly the students, who were so generous and more than willing to see their balloons find a good home,” Weber said.

Danielle Dix, a child life assistant at the children’s hospital, said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily that she thought the event was successful. 

“The kids were very excited to get a fun gift of balloons, and it brought such joy to them and the families,” Dix said.

University President Jim Ryan tweeted about the event during Final Exercises.

“In addition to helping the environment, the generosity of this graduating class brought such joy to so many people we saw today,” Ryan said.

Last year, the University’s Office of Sustainability and Green Greeks — a CIO, comprised of students in Greek life, which aims to promote sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices at the University — pledged to encourage students to pursue alternatives to carrying balloons. In a tweet last year, the Office of Sustainability suggested students use “garden spinners or bubble blowers as alternatives.” This year, the Office of Sustainability switched their approach. 

“We realized that an effective way to minimize our impact on the environment would be to encourage students to not release their balloons at the end of various graduation ceremonies,” said Lela Garner, a sustainability assistant at the Office of Sustainability. 

Garner said that the donation effort helps to alleviate some of the concerns that the Office of Sustainability has about the current graduation tradition. 

“A main goal of the educational campaign was to decrease the amount of debris that ends up in the Charlottesville community – trees, streams, parks — and the collection of balloons allowed us to do just that,” Garner said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Additionally, Garner revealed that the Office of Sustainability worked with the President’s Office to help educate students on alternatives to releasing the balloons.

“It’s great to see so many different organizations and groups working together to solve an environmental issue and turn it into a wonderful opportunity to connect with community members,” Garner said.

Weber said that he hopes the event continues for years to come.

“I’ve seen it described as a new tradition so I think we’ll try and make it happen each year,” Weber said.

Garner said balloon donation would ideally eventually “become part of graduation day culture.” 

Weber also suggested improvements for more efficient balloon collection in the future. 

“In terms of making changes, we’ll refine the collection locations and make sure each volunteer carries safety scissors too, a critical tool when many balloons are tied to students’ wrists,” Weber said.

Dix said balloon donations could also go to places other than the Children’s Hospital, including patients from other age groups. 

“Some of the volunteers suggested it would be great to offer the balloons to adult patients as well, perhaps the elderly who would be alone and would benefit from some cheer,” Dix said.

Correction: This article previously stated that the Office of Sustainability and Green Greeks petitioned to encourage students to pursue alternatives to carrying balloons during graduation, and has been updated to describe their efforts as a pledge.

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