WE Day Toronto Celebrates the Power of You, Me and We

By Angela McLean

Youth have the power to change the world and the proof is in the success of Free the Children’s annual WE Day. On October 1, 20,000 students, educators and change makers from over 900 schools made Toronto’s Air Canada Centre their classroom. Together, they celebrated their incredible volunteer efforts over the past year through the WE Schools program and were rewarded with an incredible line-up of celebrities and inspirational speakers to help keep the conversation going. Toronto’s 9th annual WE Day festivities served as a kick-off to the 2015-2016 worldwide WE Day tour and marked the start of Free the Children’s birthday celebrations, considering this is their 20th anniversary.

Demi Lovato took on co-hosting duties at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Angela McLean/Vervegirl

Demi Lovato took on co-hosting duties at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Photo Credit: Angela McLean/Vervegirl

Toronto’s energetic crowd was treated to performances from Hedley, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiesza, Nick Jonas, Hozier, Francesco Yates and Shawn Mendes as well as motivational speeches from Demi Lovato, Nina Dobrev, Spencer West, Free the Children co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger and more. Each performer and speaker had their own story to share, but they all had one message in common: WE are powerful, WE are a movement, and WE WILL change the world.

From start to finish, inspiration filled the room as the hosts, performers and speakers led the crowd through a series of interactive lessons.

Liz Trinnear, one of the WE Day Toronto co-hosts who we know from eTalk and Much, introduced the concept of “imagineering” to students. “We all have these amazing ideas but what’s more awesome is making those dreams become a reality,” she said. “Imagination engineering, or imagineering, is the act of taking your dreams and turning them into reality. I’m an imagineer, and I’d say that you are too.”

Demi Lovato explained that she was initially nervous to speak out about her struggles with mental health – “What would others think? Would they judge me?” Demi was able to overcome these overwhelming fears and share her story, inspiring thousands of people fighting similar battles. “We are better off if we have the confidence to act. Now, I feel more confident than ever,” Demi exclaimed. “I use that energy to focus on my work and my music.” Demi also took on co-hosting duties and welcomed a good friend of hers and of WE Day to the stage – Nick Jonas!

Free the Children ambassador Spencer West took to the stage to shout out several special students in the crowd who had made outstanding efforts to redefine possible. One of these students was 13-year-old Alessio Pellegrino from Vaughan, ON. He told Vervegirl that after attending WE Day in 2014, he was inspired to make a change. In particular, he was drawn to the idea of giving a goat to a family. “A goat for a family in a developing country that is involved in the Adopt a Village program costs $50,” he explained. “The goat provides 16 glasses of clean milk a day to a family. The goat can have babies and when the family sells the baby goats they can make money for themselves. The goats also provide daily nutrients to the family and help them live a sustainable life.” Within two months, Alessio and his classmates raised $7,300 and used the funds to purchase goats. He advises students like himself who have been inspired to take action. “Share your ideas,” he said. “If you have an idea and you really want to do it, don’t hold back.”

Shawn Mendes performs his song "Never Be Alone" with members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra at WE Day Toronto. Photo Credit: Angela McLean/Vervegirl

Shawn Mendes performs his song “Never Be Alone” with members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra at WE Day Toronto. Photo Credit: Angela McLean/Vervegirl

NBA legend and two-time Hall-of-Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a highlight speaker for all the sports fanatics in the crowd. He stressed the importance of working as a team to maximize the impact of your efforts. “I’ve been a part of 5 championship teams with the Lakers,” he said, “but this championship team, the WE Day team, is the BEST team I have ever played on.” He encouraged everyone to invite all of their friends to the team. After all, who wouldn’t want to be on the WE Day team?!

Michael “Pinball” Clemons, a Canadian sports icon and CFL Hall of Famer, delivered one of the most heartwarming moments of the day. “There is no greater gift to someone who is suffering than a big hug,” he suggested. Students responded by hugging their classmates sitting around them. “20,000 people in #Toronto are legit hugging right now,” the WE Day team quickly tweeted. Only at WE Day!

International activists and co-founders of WE Day, Craig and Marc Kielburger, address 20,000 students and educators at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Photo Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press

International activists and co-founders of WE Day, Craig and Marc Kielburger, address 20,000 students and educators at WE Day Toronto on October 1. Photo Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press

 

Back in the city where WE Day began, Craig and Marc Kielburger had plenty of final advice to share with the Toronto crowd. Craig took the opportunity to show how far Free the Children has come. He said, “20 years ago, I was nervous and I didn’t think we had the power to make a change. Now, 20 years later, I look from this stage and see a generation that knows they have the power to shift this world.” His words resonated with the young crowd who realized that they, too, could be on the WE Day stage in a few years sharing their story with a new generation of change makers.

Kiesza ended the show with a smash performance of her singles “Sound of a Woman” and “Hideaway” that had the whole crowd on their feet. Looking out at the audience, she said, “You are the generation of the future. You’re going to change the world! We are going to change it together!”

With those words, 20,000 people returned to their regular classrooms with a renewed sense of hope and new ideas to continue making a difference.

Don’t miss your chance to relive the magic of WE Day when a television special with highlights from the show airs on MTV Canada Monday, December 7 at 9 p.m. ET.

Stay connected with the WE movement at www.we.org.

Check out Vervegirl’s snaps of the stars arriving at WE Day!