HALIFAX — Inspired. Excited. Eager.
That’s how thousands of energetic and screaming students were left feeling as they headed home from the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax on November 30 from WE Day Atlantic, which featured a vast array of guest speakers and A-plus musicians who spoke and performed.
The celebration — held to recognize the achievements the students are making both locally and globally — is organized by brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger.
Local students were joined by others from across Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I at Scotiabank Centre for the annual event where students hear empowering stories from the special guests.
Pictou County’s Georgia Murray and Nina Davey spoke about the power of lasting friendship. Together with other friends, they honour the memory of their friend, Jeana English, by hosting fundraisers for various causes all in the name of Jeana’s Girls. Another local student, Tess Murray, took the stage and spoke about the local We Scare Hunger event held Halloween night for local food banks.
Bedford’s Rachel Brouwer was among those who spoke. It was her message that stayed with several of the students from Georges P. Vanier Junior High who chatted with one another during the trip back home.
Brouwer, 16, told the story of her invention of a new method aimed at killing bacteria in drinking water in Africa. It requires no fuel and uses material readily available in Third World countries.
“When I was working on my invention, a lot of people didn’t believe I could do it,” Brouwer told the crowd. “They thought I was too young and that it would never work. I just kept thinking about the people I could help and kept trying even when I hit road blocks.”
She had a message for those in attendance: “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a difference because of your age,” she said. “Find your passion and stick with it. You could end up changing lives for the better all because you believed you could.”
Intertwined between the speeches from speakers like Alexandre Trudeau, Tyler Simmonds, Kerry Kennedy and Samra Zafar was the music of platinum-selling recording artist Tyler Shaw and Canadian Country Music award winner Brett Kissel — who both were solid fan favourites.
What WE Day is all about didn’t appear lost on the 10,000 student change-makers as they kept being told by the musical DJ’s they were the best crowd from the Canadian stops in 2017. Cheers that erupted for Shaw, who performed his hit song Cautious, and Kissel seemingly backed up that sentiment.
“These young people here at WE Day Atlantic Canada are an unstoppable community of leaders who have shown us that anything is possible when you work together,” said Kissel.
Mya Archibald, a student in Grade 8 at Georges P. Vanier Junior High in Fall River, said WE Day meant a lot to her.
“I think it’s important that youth know that anyone at any age can make a difference and change lives,” said Archibald. “After seeing and hearing all those stories about young empowered people it makes me feel very inspired, excited, and eager to get fundraising. I’m sure others from our Me-to-We group feel that way too.”
She said Brouwer’s story was one of the highlights of the day for her.
“WE Day was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget,” said Archibald.
The students also heard messages from Quentrel Provo — the brains behind Stop the Violence in Halifax — Rebecca Thomas and Samra Zafar, who told her story of being forced into marriage when she was just a young girl and how she eventually got the courage to stand up for herself. Kennedy pointed out change is within everyone who attended.
“Working together we can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance,” said Kennedy. “That’s what WE Day is all about — making a difference, working together, and speaking the truth to power.”
Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd who took her own life after being bullied, told the students to rise up against cyberbullying in a poignant message.
“Although she is gone, she is not silent,” said Todd. “She has become a voice of hope and support for those who are hurting. Today, here at WE Day, we carry her voice. I’m working to ensure that no one else will have to go through what Amanda went through.”
Alexandre Trudeau told the young travellers to stay brave and wise as their adventure of life begins.
“Growing up, being strong in this life of adventure, means becoming that fellow human who puts a hand out to help the little stranger passing through,” said the brother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Zafar came to Canada as a child-bride before escaping a decade of abuse, before going on to graduate as a top student at the University of Toronto, where she received a plethora of awards and scholarships.
“Despite what you’re going through, don’t give up,” she said in her speech. “Speak up and break the silence! Work hard for yourself, but remember to pay it forward because there are people that need you to pave a path for them.”