SCOTIABANK CENTRE: For three Ash Lee Jefferson School students, WE Day Atlantic 2016 was much more than a celebration of their accomplishments from the past year—it was about learning how we’re all the same, no matter our differences.
Sophie MacDonald, Jeremy Smith, and Abby Malcolm were among the group of about 18 students from the Fall River school—and three teacher/chaperones—that were among the almost packed house at Scotiabank Centre for WE Day Atlantic on Nov. 30.
“It was very inspiring with how the crowd talked about coming together, how everyone can be the same and different at the same time,” said Malcolm. “You don’t have to judge them.”
MacDonald said a lot of the stories from the speakers were educational.
“I think it was really cool to learn about the things that the speakers have gone through,” she said.
Smith said it was nice to see and hear from the different speakers.
“I learned a lot about how we need to improve on community work, and do more global work,” he said. Smith volunteers himself, and is a member of the school’s Holiday Express.
Margaret Trudeau, the mom to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Colin McKiggan, a community change-maker; social advocate Annie Bartlett; and the Man in Motion, Rick Hansen were among those speaking to the youth. The speakers were intertwined with performances from Kardinal Offishall; award winning singer Jully Black; and Enfield’s own Classified, assisted on “Beautiful Escape” by Elijah from Elmsdale.
Malcolm said there were many highlights for her.
“Each of the speakers said a meaningful thing to us,” she said.
A surprise awaited the 8,000 students who made the trek to Scotiabank Centre for WE Day Atlantic on Nov. 30. Organizers announced that morning that Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie would do a performance of his Secret Path song. The song is about a young First Nations boy—Chanie Wenjack—final journey. Wenjack went through snowstorms and freezing rain as he attempted to return home from a residential school kilometres away from his home, where he was forcibly taken away. He ended up freezing to death six days after running away.
Downie, along with brother Mike, brought a message of hope, reconciliation, and healing for a tragedy that “never ever should have happened” Mike Downie told the youth at WE Day.
After his performance, Gord Downie brought up Chanie’s two sisters who sang a song and performed a prayer to much silence as the youth listened on intently.
Malcolm said she really enjoyed the speech from Annie Bartlett.
“It was very powerful,” she said.
Bartlett’s story is one of courage. While she has Cystic Fibrosis and is part of the Make-A-Wish foundation, the artist and advocate’s wish was to speak at WE Day.
Her message to the students-working together, great things are within reach, and it doesn’t matter your differences.
“I am more than my disability,” she said. “We are more than our genders, skin colour, class, sexuality, or age. We are more than a stereotype.
“We’re all the same people and cannot be defined by one label. I challenge each and everyone of you to remember that when you look at anyone. I challenge you to help each other.”
Trudeau told the students that with freedom comes great responsibility.
“That responsibility is to be the best we can be,” said Trudeau.
She told the students about her mental illness and how people said she was crazy, and how seeking help changed her life.
“I completely changed when I accepted that I had a mental illness and I had to get the tools to live with it happily and healthy,” said Trudeau. “We all have to make healthy and good decisions about how we spend our days. The most important thing is to keep your mental health is sleep, get yourself a good night sleep.”
Students from the Me-to-We team at Holland Road School in Fletchers Lake were also in attendance at the event.
Ryan Clarke, a Grade 6 student, thought it was a lot of fun. He said Trudeau’s speech of living with bi-polar was motivating and inspirational to him as it showed that you can do anything no matter what your life is like.
Clarke was a member of Holland Road’s ‘We Scare Hunger’ team, sorting and packing food for the local food bank.
“I never missed a meeting for We Day,” he said.
Zoe McNeil, another Grade 6 student at Holland Road, found Annie Bartlett’s speech to be very inspirational.
“I found her story to be motivating because even though she has Cystic Fibrosis, she followed her dream to dance,” said McNeil, 11.
McNeil said the old adage “if you put your mind to it anything is possible” is very true after attending WE Day.
“I left WE Day knowing that you can do anything and to never give up,” she said.
JUNO Award-nominated singer Tyler Shaw, who was a co-host for the event, capped off WEDay Atlantic with a performance of his hit song “Wicked” that had everyone up on their feet grooving to the catchy song, sending the youth on their way back home with that upbeat feeling.
For more photos from WEDay Atlantic, check out our Photo Gallery section at https://thelaker.ca/photos/ .