Justin Trudeau rallies 16,000 students for We Day
Event organized by Craig and Marc Kielburger draws thousands of students and teachers to Ottawa
Justin Trudeau delivered his first speech since being sworn in as prime minister, calling for young people in Canada to mobilize to improve their local and global communities.
The remarks were delivered Tuesday in front of an audience of some 16,000 students and teachers from over 500 schools at We Day Ottawa, a concert-style event that champions public service in Canada and abroad.
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We Day was founded by activists Craig and Marc Kielburger to spark a "movement that celebrates and inspires this generation's shift from me to we," according to a statement provided by event organizers.
Trudeau, who, as an MP, hosted We Day events in the past, said empowering young people is a priority for his new government. During his swearing-in last Wednesday, Trudeau named himself the minister responsible for youth.
'You are the leaders of today'
"At an event like this you'll have a lot of people coming up on stage, talking about the future and how you are all leaders of tomorrow," Trudeau said.
"But I don't want you guys to think of yourself as leaders of tomorrow. We Day is not about you becoming leaders tomorrow. This is about you being leaders today," the prime minister said to cheers from the crowd.
Tickets to We Day events cannot be bought. Every young person must "earn" their way in by doing volunteer work, raising money for different causes or proving they are active citizens.
Trudeau pointed to the success of the Kielburger brothers, long-time advocates for the rights of children and youth empowerment, as proof that young people can be a force for good in the world.
"The big challenge that we're facing — and that our friends Craig and Marc have done such an incredible job with over the past years — is showing you that each and every one of us is powerful."
"You don't have to wait until one of you in this room, and I know at least one of you is out there, becomes prime minister, to make a difference."
From 2014 to 2015, Free the Children, the charity behind the We Day events, says youth involved with the program volunteered more than 596 million hours and raised $1.3 million dollars for local and global charities.
Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, also delivered remarks, reminding the young audience that "all people go through hardships," but can come out the other side empowered to do good in the world.
"I suffered myself with eating disorders and today we're here to really share stories that can inspire us. So many people who have gone through adversity, and have come out of adversity with so much strength and courage."
The crowd erupted into a spontaneous cheer of "Trudeau! Trudeau! Trudeau!" after the two finished their speeches, but the prime minister and his wife resisted the chant — shouting back "Canada! Canada!"
Others speeches and performances at the Ottawa event included:
- Bruce Heyman, U.S. ambassador to Canada.
- Rick Hansen, the former Paralympian and activist for rights of the disabled.
- Henry Winkler, an American actor.
- Lilly Singh, a YouTube personality.
- Simple Plan, a Montreal rock band.
- Kardinal Offishall, a Canadian rapper.
- Shawn Hook, a singer from B.C.
- Spencer West, a motivational speaker who lost both legs to a genetic disorder as a child.