Be the Change. Connect. Inspire. Make A Difference. Find Your Spark. Be the Generation To Change The World.
These were the messages of Friday's We Day which hosted a bevy of international and Canadian heroes and stars. The day-long event, which is associated with Craig and Marc Kielburger and Free the Children, recognizes the commitment of Canadian students acting for social change.
Almost 20,000 people crowded into the Air Canada Centre to be part of the rambunctious and inspiring event. Music from the Barenaked Ladies with Chris Hadfield (swoon), the Jonas Brothers, Serena Ryder, The Kenyan Boys Choir and headliner Demi Lovato punctuated the day of speeches and videos aimed at inspiring young people.
You can't buy a ticket for We Day -- you gain entrance though your teachers by volunteering, or raising money or being an all-around social change agent. We Day is meant to reward students who show leadership qualities but it also wants to inspire and rile them up to do more to change the world.
We Day will travel across the country, through the U.S. and to London this year. Over 160,000 students from 4,000 schools will participate. That is a lot of kids getting excited about giving.
The crowd roared with appreciation for the Jonas Brothers but they were equally loud for We Day favourite Spencer West. Spencer is a motivational speaker who climbed Mount Killamanjaro without the use of his legs. He also recently walked from Calgary to Edmonton to raise money for clean water.
Spencer focused on the importance of having a team around you, but also urged each audience member to find their "spark", that special something that will motivate you to make a difference.
Every speaker spoke of a project or campaign that they felt passionate about. For some it was clean water, for others anti-bullying. The message was not about one specific topic, but instead was about the need for young people to dream, organize and make change in their world. The message is clear: this is the generation to change the world, all it takes is commitment, connecting, and the boundless energy.
Martin Luther King III opened up the day saying that if his parents were alive, they would be at the centre of the event. The Kielburgers said that the We Day movement rides on the shoulders of the civil rights movement that came before.
In a moment of true Canadiana, my space boyfriend, Chris Hadfield sang with the Barenaked Ladies. But it was the words of Molly Burke, who spoke for the first time last year that had the audience completely silenced. Col. Hadfield spoke about his space mission but also told the kids that "the sky is not the limit".
There were alot of celebrities there but when 19-year-old, Molly Burke spoke, the room was silent. She detailed being bullied at the age of 14, her friends rejected and made fun of her, and not of in spite of, but because she is blind. Participating in Me to We camps, trips and now being a We Day speaker has changed Molly's life. She is not a "loser" anymore, but a hero.
They saw a lot of kids (including the amazing Canadian Living heroes), who are not any different than them but who have made a difference, not just in their community but around the world. The point of We Day is to engage youth in their communities and in the world. Youth speaker 10-year-old Hannah Alper spoke of her idol, Malala, and how everyone can make a change.
Last year, Free the Children challenged youth to raise money for clean water programs around the world. Kids collected enough pennies that when laid end to end, they could make a path to the International Space Station six times. And more importantly, they gave 100,000 people access to clean water for their entire life.
This year, the Kielburgers said, is the year of education. Instead of pennies, youth are asked to collect change. Every 20 dollars is one brick, and 500 bricks equals one school. The Kielburgers hope to build 200 schools around the world.
They also announced an new App and website We365.com which will be a social network for social action. Kids can track their volunteer hours, trade ideas and post photos. It launches on October 18th.
I took my two older kids who are 13 and 10. They listened, they danced, they took videos. Were they inspired? I'm not sure. I will assume that something somewhere will permeate; that listening to a child talk about how they want to learn but there are no schools; or hearing about poverty, or lack of clean water, or the effect of bullying will shake them up a little.
The generation to change the world. Let's hope so. #bethechange
Images: Chris Young/Canadian Press