We Day in the ‘Loo

On Feb. 17, the Kitchener Auditorium had the privilege of hosting 6,000 eager students from across Waterloo Region for We Day, an event run by international organization Free the Children aimed toward inspiring student leadership and action.

Founders Craig and Marc Kielberger shared their message of hope among other inspirational speakers, musical acts and celebrity activists such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, football star Mike “Pinball” Clemons and Reverend Jesse Jackson. Volunteers sporting “Shameless Idealist” t-shirts pumped up the crowd in between a whirlwind of speeches and musical acts delivered by Shawn Desman, as well as the Barenaked Ladies and Stereos.

Official Me to We spokesperson Spencer West was one such speaker whose irrepressible optimism and unique story electrified the crowd with positive energy.

Born with a genetic disease that affected the muscles in his legs, by age five West was facing a mountain of adversity with the amputation of both legs just below his pelvis, and was informed he would be physically unable to lead a normal life.

Conversely, West’s charismatic speech was animated with gestures, and his seamless ability to move about the stage, even to climb up onto a couch using his arms, seemed a remarkable achievement to the mesmerized students.
However, truly moving was his life-changing experience on a Free the Children trip to Kenya.

There he encountered a young girl who, referencing his disability, said “I didn’t know these kinds of things could happen to white people, too.”

Seeing firsthand the hardship suffered by others inspired West to devote himself to helping others, a message of responsibility which he passed on to the enthusiastic student audience.

“For We Day to be held in a comparatively small city like Kitchener is a unique and fortunate occurrence that was made possible through the support of local business Research in Motion (RIM)”, said Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, a Free the Children representative.

Additionally, RIM is providing the opportunity for fifty students between the ages of 14 and 18 to travel to Kenya or India this summer on a volunteer trip.
“We want to empower people at a young age,” she explained, acknowledging that Free the Children was founded by Craig Kielberger at only 12 years of age. We Day’s overarching messages carry a universality that makes them highly applicable to university or college level students.

“The power of young people to change the world” is what students are asked to carry back to their schools and communities, along with the idea that every action, no matter the size, can have a significant impact. “The time to take action is now,” concluded Sandmeyer-Graves. “The more that young people start taking action now, the greater change we’ll see in the world.”

Students of ages ranging from elementary to university level left the day empowered and delirious with the endless possibility of their own actions.
As they were reminded by National Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo, the responsibility to act does not await the leaders of tomorrow, because students “are the leaders of change right now.”