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LINDSAY MEWHINEY PHOTO

LINDSAY MEWHINEY PHOTO

BE THE CHANGE — A group of students from Elmira District Secondary School were among the thousands of local students that attended last week's We Day Conference held in Kitchener Auditorium. It was one of 10 stops on this year’s We Day Tour across Canada.

Students inspired to change the world at We Day

LINDSAY MEWHINEY, For the Independent

A select group of EDSS students had the opportunity to attend the We Day Conference held Nov. 14, at the Kitchener Auditorium, one of 10 stops on this year’s We Day Tour across Canada.

We Day has been bringing elementary and high school students together since it was founded five years ago by the Free the Children organization.

One of We Day’s taglines mirrors Gandhi’s famous words, “be the change”.

Students at We Day were captivated by conference speakers, who included the founders of Free the Children and We Day, Craig and Marc Kielburger, Martin Sheen, Canadian astronaut Dr. Dave Williams, granddaughter of Bob Marley, Donisha Prendergast, and Spencer West, the man who conquered Mount Kilimanjaro despite losing his legs, among other inspirational guests.

Speakers addressed issues that included poverty, inequality, and human rights from both a local and global perspective.  Students were inspired to take action to become involved with causes that are important to them, and to never underestimate their power to create change.

Designated “crowd pumpers” were assigned to each seating section, to lead We Day participants in the We Day Dance, and keep crowds upbeat and excited throughout the duration of the conference.  Crowd pumpers applied for the limited number of positions, and were selected based on a number of factors, including community involvement efforts.

Three crowd pumpers from EDSS, Irene Johnson, Brittany Martin, and Mackenzie Schultz agree that it was an incredible and unforgettable experience.

“As crowd pumpers, you’re trying to get everyone really excited, and keep the energy up throughout the whole day,” says Schultz.

“We just keep everybody engaged,” says Johnson.

Crowd pumpers arrived at the Aud at 7 a.m., awaiting the arrival of the first students.  Crowd pumpers sported vibrant, colourful, and in some cases, somewhat outrageous outfits, ensuring that students were smiling from the moment they arrived at We Day.

“I wish everyone could experience crowd pumping once in their life,” says Martin, “I had a blast, and it was super uplifting.”

6,000 screaming students from schools around the region were in attendance, all of whom received a reusable RBC Bluewater Project bag, filled with literature and tools to help them become involved in causes that are important to them.

Musical guests included Shawn Desman, Justin Nozuka, and These Kids Wear Crowns, as well as a performance from Cirque du Soleil.

Students were able to connect to We Day presenters and performers with the help of technology from one of We Day’s biggest sponsors, Research in Motion — the Blackberry barcode and pin number of the official We Day Blackberry was shared with students, enabling them to directly message We Day officials via Blackberry Messenger with questions or comments, as well as receive updates from We Day officials regarding upcoming speakers, performers, and tips to get involved.

Students were also able to connect and share We Day with their peers across the globe via Twitter and Facebook.

T-shirts and jewellery were available for purchase, with proceeds going to help create self-sustaining communities in poverty-stricken countries.  All products available were acquired through fair trade, ensuring that workers involved in production are paid fairly, and that work environments are maintained to uphold safety and sanitation standards.

One lucky student in attendance even won the opportunity to travel overseas this summer with RIM’s “Build a Village” program, to assist a developing community in becoming self-sustaining, and to reap the benefits of a rich and diverse cultural experience.

The conference also recognized historical figures who dared to stand up for their beliefs and work towards change, like Gandhi and Nellie McClung.

But the conference was much more than just accomplished humanitarians preaching their accomplishments to students; its focus was to encourage students to pursue their own goals.

Speakers stressed to students that despite their age, they were capable of making a change in the world, and that the only limits we have are those we place on ourselves.  Students were armed with the knowledge and confidence to persevere and chase their dreams until they become a reality.

We Day is a cause dedicated to helping young people recognize their potential, and their ability to create positive change in the world.  We Day gives students the information and resources necessary for them to do so, in a way that appeals to young people, and inspires in them the drive to create change.

Martin says of We Day, “I danced, cheered… I had a blast.”

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