By Sydney Stoller
While most Americans are trying their best to defeat the coronavirus, Mahopac High School senior Max Semegran is focusing his efforts on another deadly disease: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
This year, Semegran will become Mahopac’s first participant in the nationwide Students of the Year competition hosted by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). But raising money for the largest nonprofit that fights blood cancer is a personal fight for Semegran, as his older brother Ben was diagnosed with the disease in 2019.
“It was such a shock to me to see my older brother, someone who I see as such a strong person, ravaged by Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” Semegran said. “Throughout this experience I realized the importance of informing people about blood cancers and the impact that they have, while also raising money and awareness to improve the treatments for this disease.”
To honor his brother, Semegran named his Students of the Year campaign “Team Ben.” Ben is recently cancer free after conquering the disease on two separate occasions, although the effects of his illness still haunt his family to this day.
Knowing firsthand the horrible way that cancer affects loved ones, Semegran said he is determined to do whatever he can to support LLS. In turn, the nonprofit allocates any funds raised toward finding cures, research and supporting families who need help affording treatment.
To become a competitor, high schoolers are nominated by friends, family, or in Semegran’s case, a teacher. Students then participate in a fundraising contest for LLS starting on Jan. 21 though March 11.
The contestant who can offer the largest donation on behalf of their team is named the Student of the Year.
To further achieve his goal of eliminating blood cancer, Semegran and his fellow contestants must also come up with unique ways to fundraise. To mobilize the town and raise money, Semegran said he plans to organize a scavenger hunt.
During the scavenger hunt, participants will answer clues and solve riddles to win a prize. Community members can buy a ticket to participate and the prize money will consist of a portion of the money made from ticket sales. The rest will be donated to LLS, he said.
Furthermore, Semegran has approached local businesses interested in buying ads in the program distributed at the Students of the Year banquet. The banquet is attended by thousands of people, which means invaluable exposure with the bonus of supporting a good cause.
In addition to buying an ad, the virtual end of contest banquet will feature an auction where businesses can donate items that attendees can bid on. These can range from restaurant vouchers to luxury items, Semegran said.
Along with the medical benefits the Students of the Year contest brings, it also aims to support entrants develop interpersonal skills, like public speaking, networking, and financial planning. Although Semegran has exhibited these attributes in many aspects of his life, he’s eager to build on this foundation and learn as the contest continues.
Devin O’Toole, the LLS representative for Connecticut and the Hudson Valley, said Semegran exemplifies the ideal high school student to get involved in this campaign.
“He is extremely driven, gives his all in everything he commits to and has outstanding leadership skills,” O’Toole said. “He is finishing out his high school career as the first student to ever represent the Mahopac community and we could not be more honored to have him involved in this campaign.”
While Semegran is proud to be a leader in the fight against cancer at his school, he hopes that the fight will continue once he graduates. However, his optimism remains high after the Mahopac Students Against Cancer Club was formed at the high school last fall.
“Many of the people on Team Ben are from the club because I knew that all of the members would be interested in the fight against cancer,” Semegran said. “I am hoping that in the future they can continue doing this program and it would become a part of their club and it would be a yearly thing.”
To donate to Team Ben, visit the website linked HERE.