At a time when most seniors are planning graduation parties and looking ahead to college, Maggie Walsh was busy planning a different kind of event to close out her last year at La Jolla High School.
The Teens for a Cure Walk-A-Thon was held May 17 to benefit the American Cancer Society. Close to $7,000 was raised by approximately 250 participants. But to Walsh, the true hallmark of the event’s success was the coming together of community.
“This was the last big event I wanted to do before I graduated,” said 18-year-old Walsh. “My main goal (was) just to bring everyone together for a positive experience and something that’s meaningful.”
Along with members of the high school’s Fight for the Cure club, Walsh organized corporate sponsors, walkers of all ages, a local radio station, raffle prizes and entertainment for the 5-K fundraiser. They opened the event to high schools across the county, the first time for this type of collaboration, said Raquel Saxe, president of the La Jolla High Associated Student Body.
“We (hoped) to have a large involvement because this is such an important issue and it touches so many lives,” Saxe said.
The 25 members of the Fight for the Cure club have organized and participated in other programs to raise money and broaden cancer awareness since Walsh founded the group two years ago after losing her father, Ki Walsh, to brain cancer during her sophomore year.
Christy Zatkin, 63, who attends the same church as Walsh and recently worked with her on an inner-city project, said the La Jolla teen is all about empowering others as evidenced by the walk-a-thon. Zatkin said she hoped Walsh’s example would show others that people who really have heart and passion for what they’re involved in can make a significant impact on their community.
“She’s called a community into action, but it’s really impacting a wider sphere than just (La Jolla),” Zatkin said.
Walsh said that while her activism hasn’t lessened her grief, it has helped shift her focus to something constructive.
“It hasn’t changed the situation, obviously, but I definitely feel blessed,” she said. “I feel everything happens for a reason. I know I was supposed to get something out of this.”
That “something” is a passion for fundraising. Walsh plans to study psychology at UCLA in the fall, eventually pursuing a career planning events for non-profit organizations.
“I think that the main thing I learned is that it’s not what happens to you but what you do to make a difference,” Walsh said. “I know (my dad) would be really happy and proud of me.”