September 20th 2013.
Attended the We Day concert with the rest of the Free the Children executives (Aliyah, Michelle, Jane, Andrea, and Lily)! The event took place at Air Canada Centre, with a concert line-up that included (in order of appearance): the Jonas Brothers, Austin Mahone, Serena Ryder, Imagine Dragons, Barenaked Ladies and Demi Lovato. I cannot even begin to describe the experience; the anticipation and excitement of walking into the stadium, being surrounded by over 20,000 other people who were trying to make a difference in the world. The guest speakers really made an effort to share their stories with us, and to inspire a new generation of global changers.
Each person in the audience also received a complimentary We Day bag filled with freebies and flashing wristbands that twinkled in the stadium like a million diamonds. Marc and Craig Kielburger were introduced first, announcing their inspiration for starting Free the Children and their pride in all of us for putting their dream into action. Martin Luther King III was then brought to the stage, reinforcing the message his father conveyed in his famous speech 'I Have a Dream.' Following his words of encouragement was our first celebrity appearance from the Jonas Brothers. At this point, I could not believe they were truly there - Joe, Nick, and Kevin. Their performance was exactly how I would've expected it 5 years ago, when I had the strongest desire to meet them. Singing an unfamiliar song (Pom Poms), I was surprised by how much I still loved their sound. Definitely the best way to start the concert!
Next, Spencer West made his appearance, spreading word of the inexistence in 'can't' and allowing us to see that the only question we should be asking is 'how?' A video was shown in honor of his life-long struggles and the way he used the disencouragements he received to redefine impossibility. Sadly, his speech did not last very long, but having been inspired by him once already, his strong presence brought on a sense of compassion all the same and the urge to create change.
Although I was not nearly as excited by the idea of Austin Mahone as I would have been around a year ago, seeing him in concert turned that all around. I remember hearing the first few notes of his song to think 'this sounds familiar', when the screen rose and he stepped onto the stage. I pretty much screamed my lungs out at his appearance and sang along through his entire 'What About Love'. His dancing, on top of his voice, made the performance that much more entertaining (like a fangirl's dream). It was one of the best feelings in the world, surrounded by thousands of fans like myself, and knowing that an artist I admired so many times before from afar was right then in front of my eyes in the same room.
Serena Ryder was the next singer to perform, singing her catchy number 'What I Wouldn't Do'. I must admit that I hadn't truly known who she really was at first, except for the fact that one of my friends was a fan. However, upon hearing her sing, I was overcome by a recognition of the song. Her voice and spirit lit up the entire stadium and brought a lighter mood into the whole atmosphere. Following was a guest speaker by the name of Molly Burke who was visually impaired, sharing her story of her childhood bullying and how she came out rising on top. Her speech was truly touching, with motivational words spoken from the heart to assure us all that are times when sticks and stones may break our bones, but if we all reach out and stand together, there is nothing that can stop us.
After our lunch break, the hosts asked the audience to scream and applaud as loud as they could so as to refilm our reactions for better footage. I was fine with this at first, until they crossed the line and introduced my favourite group at the moment: Imagine Dragons. I screamed my heart out at their name, only to realize it was all a trick to stimulate a bigger reaction from us. Having almost shouted my voice raw, I refrained from participating in anymore of their following cheers for the camera. At the same time though, Jane and I added our own dances to the cheering making it a hilarious show for anyone who saw us. The hosts even created their own dance to share, called the 'We Dance' in which we were called up onto our feet to do every now and then throughout the day. A feeling of carefreeness swept through me each time, as I danced along with everyone else in the stadium to the same song and the same beat. I would hardly be lying if I said that each time it was performed, I had on the greatest smile painted on my face.
When Darren Criss (our host for the concert) announced the appearance of Imagine Dragons for the second time, many were sure that it was another one of their tacky tricks in causing hype among the crowd. But all the same, I screamed my hardest in the case that the introduction was real and the dragons were really performing... and they were. I watched the screen as it lifted, and the stadium roared with cheering. Believing at first that they were going to sing 'It's Time', I was overthrilled to find that they chose to perform 'Radioactive' - a song I was much more familiar with and had grown to love for the past few months. I sang, danced and clapped along the entire performance to my idols, ones that I never would have dreamed I'd see in real life. I only wished that I could have shared the experience with Paolo, knowing that he was just as huge a fan of them as I was. A sense of euphoria washed over me, as the music swallowed me whole. It was a moment that I knew could never be replicated, and I took in every second of it. During the final moments they were on stage, I applauded the hardest, screamed the loudest for one of the best bands of all time. And the crowd went wild with me.
Following were two youth speakers by the names of Hannah and Vishal. They proved worthy to be part of the show with their incredibly powerful speeches that were spoken with such confidence in front of the 20,000 people in the stadium. Hannah spoke with enthusiastic hand gestures that led us all to be captivated by what she had to say, not to mention, added to her level of adorability (I know that's not a word). Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to go to space, gave his presentation next as an enormous Canadian flag made its way through the crowd below. Sad to say, the flag never made its way up to the higher floors, but the view from upstairs was incredible. He told us about the dream he had growing up, and how his undying determination to achieve that dream allowed him to live it in real life. As a treat, he embarked us on a simulation trip to outer space, where upon his cue the lights in the room dimmed to welcome darkness. The screen ahead showed a distant image of earth as Hadfield told us 'all of you... will be the stars.' Taking in his words, we shook our wrists to illuminate our wristbands and watched as the entire stadium filled with twinkling lights in every crook and corner. It was magical - more magical than words could ever come close to explaining. We were in space, and we were each a star that played a part of the vast unknown universe. As his time came to an end, he gave us one last word of hope: the sky is NOT the limit.
Next in the line-up of performers were the Barenaked Ladies singing "Odds Are". I cannot say that I was ever a huge fan of them, or even listened to their music for that matter, but I became an instant admirer after their performance. Nothing is more fun than waving and clapping to music created by a group of live musicians. Gradually, the concert came to an ending as the Kielburger brothers thanked everyone for having the courage to make the world a better place. Several videos were shown in honour of the many agents of change who took a stand and not only changed the lives of entire nations, but also inspired generations to reach out as well.
Lastly, the moment we'd all been waiting for came. Demi Lovato was introduced onto the stage and the audience erupted with applause. She thanked the hosts and several of the special guests for joining us on this day in not only raising awareness, but celebrating the people who strive to make changes happen in their everyday lives. She performed 'Skyscrapers' then, a song embedded with a strong message and such emotion conveyed by her voice. I confirm first-hand now that she is an amazing live performer, and that her song definitely rekindled my memory of why I had already claimed her as my idol at a young age. To our surprise, the sad ending of her song was replaced by the overjoyed beginning to a second one! She performed 'Neon Lights' with much enthusiasm, as we all danced along and threw our arms into the air. It was by far the best experience of my life, and surely one that will last a lifetime in memory.
As for We Day, it is just the spark that has lit up the first of many flames in our year as Riverdale's 2013 Free the Children executives.
More details at: http://www.weday.com/2013/09/we-day-toronto-worldchangers/