Students reflect on We Day experiences

We Day MS

Central seventh-graders Alex Meeker and Lily Schneider, showing their support for We Day, were among the 18,000 students who attended the youth empowerment event on Oct. 8. (NYA Times staff photo by Adam Gruenewald)

by ADAM GRUENEWALD
NYA Times

Central remain sure they want to make an impact on the local and global level, but exactly what form that takes remains to be seen.
About 25 middle school students and 35 high school students attended We Day festivities on Tuesday, Oct. 8, to generate some ideas and hear from speakers at the Xcel Energy Center.
A youth empowerment initiative of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children, We Day Minnesota and the We Act program work to motivate youth to take action on local and global issues.
Since 2007, thousands of Canadian students have attended We Day events, which feature speeches and performances from global leaders, social activists and public figures. Each student group that attends is asked to make a commitment of one local and one global action throughout the year in order to help create positive change in the world.
Last Friday, high school students gathered to recap the event and develop the seeds through which global impacts can grow.
They talked about speakers, such as Molly Burke. Burke, who has a visual impairment, was attacked and speaks out against bullying and the power of hope.
“I liked how each speaker was from a different walk and had different causes, but each one said even at the age we’re at we can still do so much,” said junior Hannah Lind. “It doesn’t have to be to end world hunger or fight bullying. It can be anything you feel passionately about to help make the world a better place.”
Already students make differences locally through service-learning initiatives like a ditch clean-up, tutoring and food drives. These are expected to continue, but students want to make a global difference.
Students did express some interest on reviving Books for Africa projects and money collections globally and also for a potential service assistance trip in the future.
Central High School Principal Tom Erickson cautioned them about funds and other concerns about a large trip.
“We could start talking about the possibility of a work project… we could set something up like that through the school,” said Erickson, pointing out there would need to be enough involvement. “Do you think we would have a commitment of people interested in doing that if we got it out there?”
Erickson, who spent the first 15 years of his life in Bolivia, said a work trip would affect them.
“I can guarantee you if you do an international trip it will change your life,” he said. “It has impacted my life in ways that nothing else could. But you also have to be prepared to understand that you’re living with the poorest of the poor… With that being said, you’re also involved with them, you’re actually working with them and are changing lives.”
Students will meet again to discuss smaller projects more and also delve into possible larger projects as well.
Senior Mariah Lueck said she felt motivated to help after attending We Day.
“It opens up your eyes to all the different things you can do,” she said. “There are so many opportunities you can do. Sometimes you get stuck where you’re at and you don’t see all the possibilities to help others.”
Fellow senior Josh Hendel said We Day worked to inform him and his peers about the continuing changing world.
“The point was to inspire the next generation of leaders to take action.” he said. “Whether or not We Day leaves a lasting impression among us, the first step is to be a part of it.”
Similar thoughts were shared by seventh-graders Sam Meeker and Lily Schneider, who both mentioned the speech given by Spencer West, an author with a double amputee who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on his hands and in his wheelchair in June 2012
“(West) really stood out,” said Meeker. “Just how he learned to walk with his arms and he had a disease from when he was a child and they never said he’d be able to walk, but he did.”
Using West as inspiration, Meeker said the event focused on forgetting the “can’t” and “won’t” and figuring out the “do’s” and “how’s” to making an impact.
Schneider said she liked the idea of getting not just the school, but the whole community involved in activities like trick-or-treating for the food shelf.
Seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher and Student Council co-advisor Shawn Erickson said students will meet to discuss some potential ideas and review information given to them by We Day.
“We want to do local outreach and extend it out to global outreach,” he said. “We want to move that into a global aspect.”
Again, exactly how to do that remains the difficult part in making a difference globally, but Shawn Erickson said attending We Day helped.
“What do we have to do to be able to do our part and yet still get the help where it’s needed?” he said. “That’s the part I think we really need to take a look at. How do we help people in Haiti or in needy places?”
Shawn Erickson added We Day was a phenomenal event not just for the students, but for all who attended.
“I wanted to be there so I could get ideas myself,” he said. “It was set up where everybody can relate. We had sixth-graders there, seventh- and eighth-graders, and I think we all took something from it.”
For more information on the event which drew 18,000 students, visit www.weday.com.

Contact Adam Gruenewald at adam.gruenewald@ecm-inc.com.

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