As Calgary celebrated its very first We Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome the atmosphere was hot, hot, hot. And it's no surprise; the 18,000 youth packed into the stadium were fired up and ready to inspire and be inspired.
The theme of the day was "We Are The Change," and celebrities and musicians used the event to encourage and inspire positive social action.
"Just like out teams that play in here...You're going to have lots of obstacles, you're going to have to work together. You're going to meet them and you're going to overtake them," Calgary Flames President and CEO Ken King told the crowd, opening up the morning events.
"I know you can do it and I know you're up for the challenge," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi , via video, encouraging students to get involved in their communities and to ask others around them to lend their time and resources to others.
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In addition to local celebrities, students were treated to talks and performances from international celebrities, musicians and performance groups. Chief George Stanley opened the morning with prayer, followed by musical performances from Robb Nash, the Calgary Stampeders marching band and award-winning Canadian band Hedley.
Education advocate Liz Murray took the stage mid-morning to talk about her journey from homeless child to Harvard grad. Born to drug addict parents, Murray spent her childhood and teenage years living on the streets and in the shelters of Brooklyn, struggling to eat and find places to sleep.
"My parents taught me people can't give you what they don't have," she said, acknowledging that while her mom and dad struggled with addiction and failed to provide in many ways, she does not place blame on them.
After her mother died of AIDS, Murray decided she needed to take charge of her life. She enrolled in high school, sought the help of non-profits to help her with the necessities of life, and worked really hard to graduate an A student.
"No matter where I slept...I would dream of having a better life," Murray said. And a better life she got; through her determination and hard work Murray was offered a full scholarship to Harvard University.
"No one knows what's possible until we're already doing it."
No one knows that better than speaker Spencer West. Fresh off a climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, West announced his plans to walk from Edmonton to Calgary next year.
What makes West's climb and upcoming walk remarkable is that he will have done both on his hands - West was born with a genetic disease that caused him to lose his lower body when he was young.
Along his 300 kilometre walk from the Alberta capital to Cowtown, West will raise money to provide clean water to Africa and is inviting any interested Albertans to join him.
"There is no can't, there is no won't: only how," he said.
Award-winning actor Martin Sheen spoke of his lifelong commitment to social change.
"Acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive," he said.
Sheen told the crowd he believes that in addition to food, clothing and shelter each human being is entitled to justice, healing and mercy.
"We are all responsible for each other," he said, encouraging the crowd to consider others before themselves.
When it comes to thinking about others, television host and interviewer Larry King told the crowd that he always takes time to learn about younger generations.
"Sometimes older generations tend to put down what younger people like...but if you're not curious, you're never going to learn."
He also spoke about the perseverance two personal heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, displayed in the face of harsh judgement from others and encouraged today's youth to work hard to avoid judgement of others.
"Prejudging is dumb," he said.
The idea behind We Day is this: youth across Canada earn their entry into the stadium event by volunteering and raising money for various non-profit groups. Students are asked to participate in one local action and one global action, meaning they will help one organization in their community and one organization that supports people globally.
Once they earn their way to the event, thousands of youth descend on a stadium where they hear motivating messages from celebrities and politicians, as well as musical performances from some of Canada's hottest acts.
Students hear about how they can work with charities or become "social entrepreneurs," which involves using business tools to create change.
At events across Canada last year, students were asked to collect food for their local food banks. More than 800,000 lbs of food were collected. This year, student will receive "penny bags," and are being asked to collect the soon-to-be-discontinued penny. Each bag holds approximately $25 worth of pennies. When students drop off their bags at a local RBC, the money will be processed and the proceeds will be enough to provide clean drinking water to one person living in developing countries for life.
We Day is hosted by Free the Children, a global charity run by Canadian brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger and campaigns to install water pumps and wells overseas, end hunger in Canada, and raise awareness of aboriginal issues, child labour and female oppression.
Photos from We Day 2012 Toronto
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