Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Evening of Champions

Photo: We Day Seattle - beautiful, amazing and so inspiring
We Day Seattle
Last Wednesday, We Day came to the U.S. for the very first time in Seattle, Washington. We Day is a celebration for youth who have performed one local and one global act of service. You can't buy a ticket to We Day; you earn it. I was lucky enough to be one of the 15,000 kids who attended last week and have to say it was one of the most amazing events I have ever been to. By the end of the day after listening to speakers such as Martin Sheen and Magic Johnson the energy in the room was so high you could imagine the walls bursting from all the excitement. Everyone left inspired and ready to make a difference.

The night before We Day was the evening of champions and Dinner of champions. The former was a smaller celebration for youth who have put forth a special effort and the latter was a more formal event for adults who made We Day Seattle possible. I was given the opportunity to speak at both events; below is the speech I gave.

Ever since I can remember, I lived by the code that I was going to save the world. I didn’t know how or when; all I knew was that I had to help somehow. When I was little, I tried a few tactics; forming clubs, putting up posters, writing stories.  None of which were very successful. I didn’t really know how to organize things at the time, and when obstacles presented themselves I had no idea how to move around them. One day while counting rests in a dull 8th grade honors band rehearsal, I began to contemplate all the problems in our world; how ignorant and unwilling to change people could be. It was during that two hour rehearsal that everything seemed to come crashing down upon me. I could no longer bear it. I felt like if I just sat by and watched any longer I was going to explode. As soon as I got home that night I sat down at a computer, created a blog entitled environmental awareness, and wrote my first article about the BP oil spill. It wasn’t very good; just a short paragraph and a bunch of pictures, but it was a start. I wrote more interesting articles, some poems, and even a short story. It was so cool to look on the audiences tab of my blog and find out that hundreds of people were reading my posts; not just from the States, but from Russia, China, and all over the world.

That summer, my mom told me that I would be going away to take action camp.  I had never really been away from my family for very long before and I wasn’t entirely sure what Me to We was all about or what Take Action even meant. The first day at camp was a little intimidating; I didn’t know anyone and had no idea what the week would bring. My screechy voice at our first gathering when we were required to sing didn't help much either. However, on the second day I felt like I knew the other kids at camp better than people I’d known for year.  Over the course of the week, my confidence grew.  In school, I had always preferred to work alone, since the people around me rarely were as willing to put in as much effort as I. Being surrounded by people who were just as passionate as I was gave me hope there were others who cared and were willing to work to make this world a better place. There, I discovered the power I held as a youth and that I didn’t have to wait until I grew up to make a difference. By the end of the week, I was feeling more confident and excited than ever before. On the last night of camp everyone had the opportunity to give speeches about our plans for when we returned home. Originally, I hadn’t planned on giving one; I was terrified of public speaking, even among people I knew well, especially after hearing how spectacular the other speeches were. After a few kids had gone, the room was silent. We were about to move on when, almost against my will, my hand shot up. I walked up to the speaking area trembling. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say and had already started berating myself as to how stupid of an idea this was. Outside of school presentations I had never given a speech before.

 I took a deep breath, attempted without much success to calm my quivering, and began with, “I didn’t really plan for this, so I’m just going to wing it.”  And then I took off. It was like everything I had to say was already written, like the words were waiting for this moment to escape out my mouth and present themselves to the world -I hardly had to think about what I was saying. Before I knew it, I'd finished, and the entire room erupted into an explosion of applause.  My actions seemed to inspire those younger than me to give speeches and eventually practically everyone in the room had taken their turn.

When I got home, I was filled with excitement. I invited my friends over to help me make lavender wands to raise money for the American River Association.  The unexpected benefit from doing this was not the money, it was the kids. Kids ranging from around three to nine years old, intrigued by the artful poster emphasizing how pollution affects our daily lives, would gather around my stand. I was surprised and amazed at their enthusiasm and willingness to learn.  In one day, I felt like I was able to make a lasting impression on children and their parents as well as others who stopped to listen.  It was an amazing feeling.

          Thinking back to my Me to We camp experiences,  I remembered the crazy, seemingly irrelevant things we were able to accomplish together; silly things like building shoe towers and transporting people across imaginary rivers of lava. I remember Take Action day, when we went to Grouse Mountain and built a hummingbird garden. Facing the latter task alone would have been time consuming and the results minimal.  But with a group, we had a great time doing it; the enthusiasm we possessed while completing the task showed in our results. A thought entered my mind: what if I didn’t have to save the world alone? What if I could get others who had a passion to help me accomplish what I knew needed to be accomplished. If one person could get people all over the world to care, imagine what several could do?  So, now in the year 2013, I find myself giving yet another speech.  The lessons and skills I’ve learned from Take Action Camp are still very much a part of me.  I continue to try and inspire others; I’ve formed an environmental club within my school which has planned to create a youth summer camp to teach kids how they too can better help their community and the world around them.  From the Take Action camp I learned that through leadership, persistence, and friendship, I could be a better steward and bring my friends and community along with me to make great changes.  Thank you for helping create a movement towards a better world.