From Me to We

Social engagement, opportunities, and the universe.

Every once in a while, life likes to give you a little push in the right direction. A cosmic nudge to let you know that you’re on the right path, that your choices have been sound, and that there’s a world full of opportunities ahead of you. I was lucky enough to experience one of those moments lately, and I was even luckier to be experiencing it with 16,000 other people at the same time.

A few months ago, I was approached by my former boss at the Algonquin College Applied Research Centre to participate in Canada’s National We Day at the CTC in April. The school wanted to showcase student-based social involvement during a one-minute segment, and I was asked based on my work mentoring students through the #FlashForward program, which gives high school students across Ottawa the opportunity to create patient safety videos for The Ottawa Hospital. It probably took me all of three seconds to realize this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I told my boss to sign me up.

For those of you who don’t know about We Day, it’s a social movement started by Craig and Marc Kielburger, the brothers behind Free the Children. We Day is a youth-oriented, social engagement event that features celebrities and social change makers to help empower youth to create a positive change in the world. The one caveat, however, is that students can’t buy a ticket to the event -they have to earn their tickets through one global and one local social action. It’s a high energy social engagement event with jaw-dropping talent and like-minded, socially responsible youth and educators. If you’ve ever experienced the intense energy of a Backstreet Boys concert, imagine that times ten and about a thousand times more positive.

Now, I’m usually a pretty confident public speaker. I don’t mind getting up in front of a room full of people, and I love the sense of clarity that comes with presenting. I often say that I’m more confident speaking in front of a group of five hundred than I am a group of five — but this was taking my limits to a whole new level. Actually, 32 times higher than my usual level, to be exact (I did my math). My nerves were getting worse with every day that passed, and it wasn’t until I met the rest of the Algonquin team that I started to feel my confidence coming back to me. Already, I was starting to see the power of positivity in numbers.

I met the two other girls, Stacey and Amanda, the day of rehearsals. We had talked briefly on the phone, but putting a face to their names and hearing about their experiences helped me realize how special this opportunity really was. Stacey (who I met after discretely following her in hopes that she knew where she was going) is part of the Marketing and Business Administration program at Algonquin, and she works with the AC Hub on campus. She’s also done some volunteer work overseas in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and her life dream is to work for Free the Children. Amanda is a mother to a young son, and currently enrolled in the Police Foundations program. She has an impressive amount of volunteer experience, and really interesting perspectives on the world and future generation. We talked hashtags and technology, and she taught me about today’s internet safety curriculum in schools. Needless to say, the three of us hit it off immediately. I couldn’t have asked to share this day with two more phenomenal people, and meeting them in person led to that first cosmic nudge.

Left to right: Amanda, Stacey, Me (red eyed and excited)

Driving up to the Canadian Tire Centre on We Day was like driving into a giant magnetic field filled with nothing but positive energy. We could feel the anticipation in the air as the students found their seats, and we made sure to sit in the bowl for the first period of the day. To be completely honest, I knew that We Day was a big deal — but the volume of it didn’t really hit me until we found our seats. The place was packed, and the adults looked just as (if not more) excited than the students. We tried (and failed) to learn the We Day dance, our moves totally trumped by the peppy and energetic volunteers leading the crowd. It was like Bring it On, where we were the Toros and they were the Clovers. They were doing front handspring, step out, round off, back handspring, step out, round back handspring full twisting layouts and we were just learning how to do a cartwheel. Good thing we were all on the same squad.

The day started off better than I ever could have anticipated. When the opening ceremonies and blessings started, Claudette Commanda took the stage. My heart stopped. Claudette is a member of the Kitigan Zibi Nation and was one of the best professors I had in my past life as a student at the University of Ottawa. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and one of the most inspirational women I’ve met to date. This was my next cosmic nudge — a sign that this was exactly where I was supposed to be in the universe at that exact moment.

Just a taste of the atmosphere in the room.

As the day progressed, we took in inspirational speakers from Mia Farrow to Marlee Matlin. We heard from our Governor General, Spencer West, and Kweku Mandela. The list goes on. We couldn’t help but feel endlessly lucky that we were given the chance to participate in this day. The day was filled with goose bump worthy moments, but a personal favourite was Jonathan Pitre, a young man with Epidermolysis Bullosa (video below). His courage and undying positive spirit helped earn him the standing ovation he deserved.

Every single person that we passed was beaming with positive energy. The students, volunteers and adults alike were completely invested in the purpose of the day, and you couldn’t ask for a more supportive group. Already, it was obvious that the We Day movement was making a positive change for the future generation, along with the older ones who were lucky enough to get to participate.

We watched the last period of the day from backstage, waiting to be queued up. As we stood in the wings, watching Kweku Mandela speak, the full importance of the event hit me. You see, the whole reason I joined my program at Algonquin College was because I wanted to get the skills I needed to contribute to the world through nonprofit marketing. Now, on the verge of graduating, the full force of this cosmic push was hitting me. This was the culmination of my past eight years of learning, volunteering, and growing. Even though my career wasn’t heading towards nonprofit work at that exact moment, there were endless opportunities to use my skills to contribute to the world. My journey had come full circle, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one in the room feeling that way. Every single one of the 16,000 people around me believed that together we can change the world for the better. I was just one out of 16,000 people, in one stadium, in one country, on this one little planet of ours — and I had never felt so connected to the whole human experience.

Kweku Mandela speaking at We Day 2015.

When it came time for us to do our segment, we were beaming with what the day had already given us. Yes, all three of us were nervous, and yes, we were terrified of messing up, but what struck us was the idea that even if we did draw a blank or explode into tears three seconds into our spot, it would be okay. As adults we learn to be cautious with our words, and to fear losing face in front of each other. But as humans, we all want to see each other succeed, and the atmosphere in the room made that clear. Our minute came and went, we took our to our spots and got through it. We all worked in unison and none of us pulled a Jennifer Lawrence on our way to the stage — a resounding success in my books.

After speaking to people in the few days following We Day, it became apparent how much this movement is already shaping our future. A coworker of mine who’s son was there, said that she was amazed to see how matter of fact her son was about the people he heard from that day. There was nothing sensational about them: they were humans, and they had moments where they needed help. We all need help sometimes, and it’s important to be there for one another.

While speaking at We Day was an amazing opportunity, I think I’m more grateful just to have had the chance to attend. I’ve never been a part of something so earth shakingly positive in my entire life, and I hope that it’s not the last time that I experience the feeling of a unified human experience. We Day is something that we can all learn from and exercise in our every day lives, whether you’re a student or an adult. I would like to sincerely thank every single person who gave us the opportunity to participate, and I can’t wait to see what the next generation, and the universe, has to offer.

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