SFU students honoured at We Day

Thousands of youth gathered at Rogers Arena to celebrate and encourage social development. - Photo by Deeya Bhardwaj

20,000 students and educators from over 700 schools gathered in Rogers Arena on October 21 to celebrate We Day, one of a series of events around the world commending youth making a difference in their communities.

Tickets to this event granted access to a five-hour-long musical spectacular, with performances and presentations from notable celebrities, activists, and Canadian icons.

The stacked guest list included Chris Hadfield, Colbie Caillat, Hedley, Kardinal Offishall, and the Barenaked Ladies. The aim of the event was to not just entertain, but to educate, and many of the presenters and performers brought with them a message for the students.

Among the special guests was actor Henry Winkler, best known for his roles on Happy Days and Arrested Development, who shared his long list of triumphs, including having published 31 books despite being dyslexic and in the bottom three per cent of the nation academically. “You are not defined by your challenges,” said Winkler. “You are defined by your power.”

Since the event functioned as both a learning experience and reward, entry was free to all students with only one caveat: they must have participated in one local and one global action aimed at making a positive change in the community.

This year marks We Day’s eighth anniversary. It was originally started by Craig and Marc Kielburger, co-founders of Free the Children, an international charitable organization that aims to empower people to transform themselves, their communities, and the world through social development and outreach programs.

Said Kielburger, “The whole purpose of We Day [. . .] is to have the 20,000 students at the event and hundreds of thousands watching the live stream come out of the experience having discovered their cause.”

This year’s event also marks the first time SFU was represented at We Day. Among the invited participants was a group of SFU students who were being rewarded for their efforts with SFU’s own Free the Children (FTC) club. Three years ago, SFU student and founder of the club Puneet Mann decided that there was a need for this kind of presence on campus.

“FTC, at its heart, is about proactive youth empowerment. It is about creating globally and locally aware citizens who are passionate about creating change — not with financial handouts — but by using the sustainable tools that we have within ourselves along with the relationships that support us.

She noticed that this form of engagement was missing at SFU and wanted to create a place where “like-minded and passionate students who want to create change locally and globally [can] come together to tackle problems creatively and in a holistic manner.”

The club has received a favourable response from the SFU community, doubling in size since its creation. It also participated in a number of initiatives to help children worldwide, including food drives, bake sales, and fundraising events.

We Day was particularly significant for the club this year because not only was it their first time going as a group, it was also a way to honour a member whom they lost to an unfortunate accident earlier this year.

Mann shared, “Syed Wajahat Ali, or as he was more commonly known to his FTC SFU friends, Ali, [was] always smiling and ready to offer an extending hand. [He] pushed the club to be more inclusive, fun and successful and always looked forward to attending We Day and celebrating our collective achievements.

“This year, we took to We Day all our previous successes and kept Ali in our hearts.”

The club hopes to continue to increase their presence in the SFU community by engaging with the school through various fundraising initiatives. They also wish to reach their global cause of rebuilding a school in the central plateau region of Haiti.