WE Day Vancouver 2015

With all the flashing lights and screaming teens in the massive sports arena, I felt like I was at a pop music concert. In a way, I was. Hedley, a popular Canadian band, was there for WE Day Vancouver, along with Barenaked Ladies, Colbie Caillat, Francesco Yates, and others. But WE Day was marketed as a "celebration of youth"--a reward for students who have volunteered over the past year and inspiration for students to volunteer this year. 

In between songs, there were inspirational speakers. Henry Winkler, known to adults as The Fonz on Happy Days, spoke about his successful career, despite his difficulties at school. (He said he was "in the bottom 3%" of all US students, academically.) Canadian Olympian Silken Laumann spoke of overcoming a devastating leg injury just a couple months before the 1992 Summer Olympics, where she won a bronze medal. Marlee Martin described, though signing (she is hearing-impaired), her experiences of becoming an actress and starring on the TV show Switched at Birth. These speeches, in particular, were very stirring. 

Henry Winkler at WE Day Vancouver 2015 (Image by La Carmina via huffingtonpost.com)

Henry Winkler at WE Day Vancouver 2015 (Image by La Carmina via huffingtonpost.com)

A few less-famous speakers highlighted some ways that they had helped the greater good. Vancouver student Raymond Wang told the crowd about his invention: an award-winning air circulation system that helps eliminate germs from aircraft cabins. Another Vancouver student, Nicole Ticea, described her award-winning HIV-screening test invention. Both of these are incredible achievements that it would have been nice to hear more about. 

As the name of the organization suggests, I had hoped that my students would think beyond themselves to empathize with the lives of others. I wanted my students to walk away understanding that challenges, like academic difficulties and physical impairments, can be overcome with perseverance, determination, and hard work. The empowering speeches gave them that.

And certainly students left with some motivation to volunteer, which fulfilled the purpose of the day. However, the "tools" they marketed for volunteering were limited to those provided by the Me to We organization. The hosts touted Me to We service trips, Me to We merchandise, and Me to We fundraising campaigns throughout the day. As teacher Alison Atkinson wrote for the Tyee regarding an earlier WE Day, it would have been nice to have opportunities for students to "discuss a point with a neighbour, or meet someone in [another row] and hear about some of the initiatives they've been involved in." At times it felt like going through Me to We was the only way for students to volunteer and help others.

Throughout the day, we screamed the manta: "I am powerful! I am a movement! I can change the world!" I also want kids to know that they are capable, they are a community, and they can help make others' lives better.

At the end of the day, our group of students brainstormed some ideas that they might like to do as a class to help our local community. Among other ideas, one suggested a collecting food for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank during slower times of the year, not just at Halloween (for the Me to We We Scare Hunger campaign) or at Christmas. Another suggested a winter clothing drive.

Even through the screams and the songs, the kids got the message.