On Tuesday, 18,000 Minnesotans packed in the Xcel Energy Center, so many that it seemed like the cheering and clapping would never stop. Such excitement might have been expected had the scene been at a Minnesota Wild game or a Taylor Swift concert. But it wasn't. The crowd was in St. Paul for We Day Minnesota, an event meant to inspire youth engagement; and the thousands of participants at the X on Oct. 8 were students and teachers from 400 schools across the state.
This was the second time We Day has taken place in the U.S. (it started in Canada). And the event—which came stocked with celebrities such as The Jonas Brother, the Fifth Harmony, and Carly Rae Jepsen—had come to Minnesota for a simple reason, said We Day co-founder Craig Kielburger: because the Twin Cities is the volunteer capital of America.
To get a ticket, students had to complete one local and one global volunteer action, from helping out at school or church to going on mission trips across the globe. “I think it’s cool that you can’t buy a ticket,” said Ellie Sanford, a Minnetonka High School student. “You’re required to work your way in. It’s cool that everyone in here has that common trait. We’re all invested in making a difference."
Kielburger kicked off the festivities with echoes of Martin Luther King Jr. “A dream shared by many becomes a movement,” he told the audience. “Young people aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow; they can be leaders of today.”
The nod to King wasn't incidental. King's son, Martin Luther King III, was the event's first speaker, sharing his father’s wisdom with the crowd. “My dad said, ‘In life, we must decide what our calling is,” he explained. And whatever that calling is, what mattered was to “be the best of what you are," King told the crowd.
Over the next several hours, other speakers and performers—from the all-girl group Fifth Harmony to Queen Noor of Jordan—took the stage to inspire and entertain. Governor Mark Dayton issued a proclamation that officially declared Oct. 8 We Day across Minnesota; Doomtree’s leading lady, Dessa
, sang “Skeleton Key;” and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said a few words. The biggest names of the day, the Jonas Brothers, sang “Pom Poms," to deafening applause, though the most heartfelt cheers were reserved for local Jack Jablonski, the Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey player who suffered a spinal cord injury during a game two years ago.
For all the star power, though, the most memorable addresses came from Spencer West
and Molly Burke. West
lost his legs from the pelvis down when he was five years old. Burke lost her vision when she was four years old. Despite these obstacles, both West and Burke captivated the crowd with their tales: West climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands last year and Burke overcame bullies and mental illness to find her voice.
Taken together, the speakers' message was clear: no matter how old you are, you can help. “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young to change the world,” Queen Noor of Jordan said.
Before Carly Rae Jepsen closed the show, Kielburger and his brother talked about their latest effort, the Year of Education campaign. The goal is to build 200 schools in developing communities around the world. Students donate quarters to Bremer Bank and every $20 donated provides a brick for these new schools.
“I’m just really pumped,” Totino Grace student Amy Gasperlyn said. “I just want to go out there and do something.”