LONDONDERRY — The ponytails were tied and ready to be cut.
A circle of students formed on the Londonderry High gymnasium floor last Friday morning for the school's 14th annual "Day of Giving" event, a longstanding salute to all the good things students are doing to help others, including cutting inches of hair off to support those battling cancer.
For many years, the high school has hosted hair cutting events during a winter pep rally to support those with cancer, sending the hair donations off to create wigs for patients — a “Day of Giving” effort that also honored great things going on in the school community.
The program was supported through the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program. That campaign ended in 2018, after thousands of hair donations from Londonderry supported the effort.
The high school decided to continue on, giving students and other donors the opportunity to continue the mission to help others with hair donations.
Now known as “Lancer Lengths,” the effort will send hair donations, ranging in lengths from 8 inches up to a foot, to Children With Hair Loss, Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids.
Rally organizer and high school teacher Steve Juster welcomed the crowd and said every year he is humbled by students' support for those fighting cancer, calling those donating hair his "angels." This year, 70 students signed up to cut their hair.
Students pledge to cut their hair early on in the school year, then often choose someone special like a teacher or family member to do the actual cut.
Most had stories to share.
Londonderry High graduate Shea Robinson was ready to have several inches of hair cut by her mother, Karen, a teacher at the high school.
The 20-year-old said there are many in her family, along with friends, with ties to those battling cancer.
"Mom lost a friend recently," Robinson said. "I've got plenty of hair to donate."
During the rally, Juster celebrated many donor stories and why they are giving up their hair to help others.
"Not all stories end happy," Juster said, but added those donating hair are making a big difference in someone's life.
That includes a past gift of a wig to Londonderry Middle School music teacher Sara Johnson, a two-time cancer survivor.
Johnson took the gym floor, encircled by all the hair donors and said receiving a cancer diagnosis three years ago set her in motion for the hardest battle of her life.
"I knew I was strong and willing to do everything to fight that battle," she said.
When she was told she would lose her hair, that news was hard.
"I can't tell you how that one sentence destroyed my confidence." Johnson said.
A group of Londonderry High "angels" then came to her classroom one day and presented her with a wig.
"That day still brings tears to my eyes," Johnson said. "It was the most wonderful present anyone has ever given to me."
Another Londonderry High alumnus, Noelle Lambert, spoke to students and school staff about her own journey losing her leg following a moped accident in 2016.
Lambert is now a celebrated para-athlete readying for the Olympics in Tokyo this year.
She told students to never give up on their dreams, no matter what life tosses at you. She thanked them for supporting so many who are in need and fighting cancer.
Lambert was then asked to give the official countdown for the simultaneous hair cutting.
Afterwards, students went off with area hairstylists who donated time to help create brand new, shorter hairstyles for the donors.
"I love it," high school senior Cora Post said as she fluffed her fingers through her new shorter hair. She has donated her hair in past years.
"And it makes me cry every time," she said.
Juster said the annual day was a way to celebrate life, hope, and all that the high school and its students are doing to support each other and the community.
“Personally, it’s such an honor to work and meet with these angels every year, they really inspire me,” Juster said. “I get to see up close the very best in people. Many of these students I would not have met otherwise, such as in class. My place is really to provide an opportunity to do something truly wonderful. Working with them and the pep rally aides to create the day, I get much, much more than I give. I’m very fortunate.”