The words spoken by Jonah Stillman, the new 18-year-old consultant for the Minnesota Vikings, clearly resonated with the crowd that packed the Xcel Energy Center Wednesday in St. Paul.
“Being young is the greatest advantage in the world. Remember that,” Stillman told the 18,000 students and teachers in the arena. “You do have the power to change the world.”
Stillman was one of dozens of speakers and performers who gathered for the star-studded WE Day show, a daylong celebration for students from across the state who earned their ticket through volunteer and charity work done in their schools. Wednesday’s was the fifth WE Day show in the Twin Cities.
The students, who ranged in age from elementary to high school, represented about 550 schools in the state. Some traveled more than three hours by bus to get to St. Paul.
The WE charity organization was founded more than 20 years ago by two brothers from Toronto, where the first WE Day was held 10 years ago. Co-founder Craig Kielburger said Minnesota is a progressive state, one that puts an emphasis on education and volunteering.
“Minnesota ... is one of the most philanthropic and one of the most service-oriented states in all of America,” he said. “This is the region where we come to pioneer things.”
About 635,000 volunteer hours were logged by the 645 schools across the state that partner with WE, he said. WE Day events are held mainly across the United States and Canada; the next one will be held Nov. 15 in Ottawa, Canada.
The production at the X was energetic and fast-paced, with speakers and artists coming up every couple of minutes to keep the screaming crowd riveted to the stage.
They included singers Jessie Reyez and Grace VanderWaal, TV journalist Ann Curry, U.S. gymnast and Olympic medalist Laurie Hernandez and Margaret Trudeau, a Canadian mental-health advocate and mother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau, who has bipolar disorder, said the best advice she can give children is to be kind and take care of their mental health by sleeping enough, eating healthy foods and playing outside.
Students who organized volunteer events or charity work were recognized on stage. Throughout the day they shared stories about their work, including projects to donate food for the holidays, plant trees and raise awareness of homelessness.
Summer Schwintek, a student at Forest Lake Senior High School, obtained a private grant to buy recycling bins for her school cafeteria. Now a senior, she is president of the school’s environmental club.
“There are so many kids that want to help and they have so much potential,” she said. “WE Day connects people from all backgrounds to give them a platform to be recognized.”
Some of the biggest cheers were for speakers who had faced great adversity. They included Lizzie Velasquez, a motivational speaker with a rare disease that prevents her from gaining weight, and Adrianne Haslet, who lost a leg during the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
“We are the power. We are the hope,” Haslet said. “It is up to you ... to make every single second count.”