SEATTLE — About 15,000 students from Puget Sound packed KeyArena on Friday. They didn’t buy tickets. They earned them.
That’s the premise of We Day, an event put on by Free the Children. Students earn tickets when they volunteer.
One Gig Harbor High School student was more than just an attendee; she spoke during the event.
Madison Dibari-Davis, 17, a junior, shared her story about moving schools and finding a place to belong.
Dibari-Davis was born in Florida, but she moved around a lot. She often went to multiple schools in the same year, she said. She came to Gig Harbor High during the second semester of her sophomore year.
At various schools, Dibari-Davis said she struggled with bullying and fitting in. When she moved to Gig Harbor, she had a realization:
“I’m the only person that’s going to change anything,” she said.
Now she’s involved in choirs and in leadership, and she’s made supportive friends at school.
Dibari-Davis applied to be a speaker at We Day, encouraged by her leadership teacher, Kelly Indahl. She found out she’d been chosen a week before the event, and that kicked off lots of speech drafts, emails and practice.
On Thursday, she got a tour of KeyArena and practiced on the stage. She was in hair and makeup; the green room with celebrities; and back stage.
None of that compared to stepping out there. KeyArena seems smaller from the stands, she said, but when the curtain opened, she realized just how many people were there.
“When you’re down on the floor, it’s insane (the number of people),” she said afterward.
As far as the speech went, Dibari-Davis said she remembers the beginning and end. But that’s about it.
“The whole middle (of the speech), I can’t remember,” she said. “It was an adrenaline rush. I wanted to do it again.”
Friday morning started early for Key Peninsula Middle School and Harbor Ridge Middle School students who shared a bus to Seattle. But even though it was before 7 a.m., the excitement on the bus was palpable.
KPMS eighth-grader Makenna Cameron said she was excited to be going to We Day. She volunteers at the Red Barn Youth Center just south of Key Center. Her friend, Natalie Pierson, also in eighth grade at KPMS, volunteers at the YMCA, and she’s a KeyPen Parks Pal.
“It’s really exciting because it doesn’t happen that often,” Cameron said. “Not everybody gets to do this.”
It was the second We Day for Seattle, which hosted the first We Day in the United States last year. It’s put on by Free the Children, a nonprofit organization founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.
Speakers this year included actor Edward Norton, Martin Luther King III and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, the co-chair of We Day Seattle.
Carroll brought some popular Super Bowl champion friends along with him: Quarterback Russell Wilson, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, linebacker Bobby Wagner and fullback Derrick Coleman all brought loud screams from the crowd.
Dibari-Davis said she enjoyed meeting Coleman and Wilson in the green room.
We Day aims to make celebrities of students themselves. The goal is to inspire them to give their time for others. The only way they can attend is through community service.
The Peninsula School District sent students from all four middle schools as well as Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools. Dibari-Davis was one of a handful of youth speakers.
“You can’t control what people think of you,” she told those in the arena. “You can only control how you respond.”
Dibari-Davis said knowing who you are can give you the confidence to accept who you are. It was a powerful message from a peer.
Later, Dibari-Davis said she could hear her friends cheering for her, even though they were way up in the stands.
“They’re such good people,” she said of the leadership class. “It made me feel almost at ease ... because I knew they were there.”
The KeyArena event featured a surprise performance by the rapper Flo Rida. It also featured motivational speakers who focused on spurring youth into action.
We Day bills itself as “the movement of our time.” This year, there also will be events in California and Minnesota, as well as a We Day UK.
We Day doesn’t compete with other charities. It allows the students to decide how they will devote their time to earn a ticket. Students can coach, tutor, clean, serve or craft for any cause they wish, as long as there is one local and one global act under their belt.
At Harbor Ridge, 51 students applied but only 31 received tickets due to constraints.
The word about We Day is growing in the school district.
The ride home was a long one for the KPMS and Harbor Ridge students. It took hours to get out of the traffic jam that came from a gathering of more than 400 schools.
But the students didn’t mind. They chattered, talked about what inspired them and ate French fries that KPMS assistant principal Andrea Bowman brought them.
As the students’ shirts said, “bring out the good.” Even in a traffic jam, they thought about positive things.
Dibari-Davis said she’s happy she got a chance to share her story. It made a big difference in her life when she realized she can make changes and improve things on her own.
She wants to pass that on.
“Now, I’m just really big on helping people,” she said.Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.