“There’s no can’t. There’s no won’t. There’s just how.”
— Spencer West
We Day is an initiative of Free The Children, an international charity that empowers young people to become agents of local and global change.
The first Minnesota We Day event was held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Tuesday, on Oct. 8.
For five hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., a group of Scandia sixth-graders, plus sixth-grade teacher Emily Stegmeir and International Baccalaureate coordinator Gerry Seaburg, joined 18,000 other students listening to motivational speakers and musicians.
The governor was there, and the mayor of St. Paul. They were joined by Queen Noor of Jordan, Mia Farrow and Barbara Pierce Bush (daughter of U.S. President George W. Bush).
Musicians included the Jonas Brothers, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fifth Harmony, America’s first teen girl group.
The Kenyan Boys Choir, who sang at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama, and Free the Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger were also on the agenda.
Students don’t buy tickets to We Day. They have to earn them.
The Scandia Elementary students applied by writing a paper on what it means to be a leader, giving ideas for community and global service projects.
Because Scandia is working to become an International Baccalaureate school, Seaberg requested the tickets. The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program includes an emphasis on developing independence, taking responsibility, and exploring globally significant ideas and issues.
There were 18 slots for students, and 22 of the school’s 45 sixth-graders applied. Stegmeir decided which essays to accept. “They were not all grammatically correct and polished,” she said. Instead, she judged them based on the student’s interest in change.
On Friday, Oct. 11, the students talked about their We Day experience.
Taylor Glumack told the story of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy who was sold to a carpet weaver and found himself chained to a loom, making carpets. After he escaped, he spoke out against child labor, but was murdered at age 12.
Craig Keilburger, also age 12, read the story of Iqbal in a newpaper and started Free the Children, a group of 20 kids in a suburb of Toronto.
Ally Goehner told of the effort by Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers to build a school in Kenya.
Adam Strupp was inspired by the presence of Jack Jablonski, the hockey player from Benilde-St. Margaret’s who was paralyzed after being checked from behind in a 2011 game.
Several of the Scandia sixth-graders were moved by Jablonski’s story. “Even though he’s paralyzed, he’s still helping people,” Amanda Ward said.
Gabby Walrath added, “He still believes in himself.”
“You’re never too young to make a difference,” Strupp concluded.
More student comments:
What does it mean to be a leader?
Autumn Huddleston: “To lead is to be responsible and on time.”
Taylor Glumack: “A good leader is not bossy or pushy, but persuades and informs people about new ideas.”
Amanda Ward: “A leader is not a bystander when someone is being bullied.”
Sydney Johson: “A leader has the ability to get everyone on the same page.”
Charlie Ferderer: “It’s not just going with your own idea, but letting others have a say.”
What service projects did you write about?
Morgan Tomas: “A bake sale to raise money for people in a different country.”
Maria Anderson: “In 4-H, we go to nursing homes and plant trees.”
Amanda Ward: “At church every year, we volunteer at Feed My Starving Children.”
Taylor Glumack: “I helped sort food at Family Pathways, a local food shelter.”
What inspired you at We Day?
Robbie Kronmiller: “Molly Burke, a blind girl, talked about how she stood up to bullies. If they called her names, she didn’t listen. If they pushed her around, she told them to stop.”
Gabbi Walrath: “Spencer West was born with a disability. His legs never worked, and they were amputated. He climbed Mt. Kilamonjaro on his hands. His motto was ‘There’s no can’t. There’s no won’t. There’s just how.’”
How did you feel while you were there?
Sydney Johnson: “I was happy to be there, to meet people, to know how we could do that. “If people with no legs can do it . . .”
Taylor Glumack: “Oh, my gosh! I was just at We Day!”
Jake Ross: “I liked the speakers.”
Heather McKoskey: “I liked the pumping music.”
What will you do now?
Adam Strupp: “We could go door to door on Halloween and say “We scare hunger,” and ask for food donations. (We wouldn’t turn down candy.)”
Heather McKoskey: “When I left, I decided I need to do some of this stuff. So I went to my mom, and we planned a bake sale for this weekend.”
After We Day, no more Jonas Brothers?
KDWB 101.3 was a sponsor of the We Day event to celebrate youth volunteerism. After performing a concert in Clear Channels KDWB’s Skyroom, the Jonas Brothers announced their breakup and cancelled their 19-city tour. The skyroom was possibly their last concert. Shown below is Hannah Theissen (second from right), radio broadcasting intern on the KDWB 101.3 Dave Ryan Morning Show, with Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas at We Day. Hannah is a Forest Lake Area High School graduate and the daughter of school board member Gail Theisen.