Would Demi Lovato come to Saanich to speak to teens about eating disorders? What about Archbishop Desmond Tutu to tell of his fight against apartheid? A few high school students sure hope so.
Spectrum seniors Kelsey Griffin and Tami Mitrofanova, along with dozens of other student leadership and social justice students, are organizing a Youth Empowerment Day to encourage other teens to be better citizens while addressing hot-button issues. The event is similar to We Day, the annual, international youth celebration in which inspirational musicians, actors, politicians and speakers perform and talk about topics affecting young people.
Tentatively scheduled for the week of May 12, the Youth Empowerment Day is Griffin and Mitrofanova’s final project for their Grade 12 social justice class, which takes a deeper look at such issues as homelessness and poverty, addiction, LGBTQ issues and animal rights.
“We couldn’t decide on what topic we wanted to address, so then we were like, ‘Let’s just do all of them,’” said Griffin with a smile. “We thought that was a perfect idea to incorporate all of them.”
Griffin said she was partly influenced by last year’s We Day in Vancouver – which featured astronaut Chris Hadfield, Canadian pop-rock group Hedley, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin and legendary American actor Henry Winkler – as well as a “mini We Day” organized by Spectrum teachers in September.
“We decided to do it as a way to better the school spirit and culture – it was sort of a surprise,” said social justice teacher Tom Gordon. “It was a pretty ambitious endeavour, but a pretty cool thing that we did.”
The Youth Empowerment Day will be the first student-driven event of its kind at Spectrum, with guidance and some assistance from their teachers. Griffin is currently working to line up speakers and performers for the event who can educate Spectrum students about a broad range of issues.
“We have Amanda Todd’s mom, who talks about teen suicide and bullying, and we have a First Nations lady coming to talk about residential schools,” said Griffin.
For entertainment, country singer Mike LeBlanc – who is outspoken against bullying and has a song dedicated to Amanda Todd – is scheduled to perform.
In addition to the Youth Empowerment Day, Griffin and Mitrofanova are planning a dinner open to the public, with food prepared by students from the school’s culinary arts program. The dinner will feature a condensed version of the afternoon’s speaking schedule.
To pay for speaker honorariums, the school will be selling tickets to the dinner, as well as running fundraisers such as silent auctions leading up to Youth Empowerment Day.
The event is a tremendous undertaking, and as Griffin’s friend Ceilidh Helmer can attest, the high school senior already has a lot on her plate.
“Kelsey does a lot of stuff, and this is adding onto all the stuff she does,” said Helmer.
“It’s another leaf on her already considerable pile,” added student leadership teacher Jeff Marchi.
But Griffin is enthusiastic about the event, even though it’s four months away.
“I’ve actually had a lot of fun organizing it,” she said. “It’s a bit stressful, but there’s so many other people helping us.”
While Griffin and Mitrofanova are in the process of contacting potential speakers and performers, they are open to anyone looking to speak about a social issue at the event. Likewise, anyone interested in donating items to the silent auction can drop them off at the school’s office.
For more information about the Youth Empowerment Day, or to inquire about presenting at the event or donating to the silent auction, email Marchi at firstname.lastname@example.org or Gordon at email@example.com.