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we day

‘I can’t wait for We Day,’ says singer Nelly Furtado, who also participated in last year’s event and is currently promoting her new album.

It's not just the kids who can't wait for We Day 2012. The guest celebrities are just as pumped.

"I'm in London promoting my new album," says singer Nelly Furtado, speaking by phone earlier this month from Britain, "but I can't wait for We Day to hear Craig [Kielburger] and everybody else speak. It's incredibly inspiring."

Shawn Desman, a platinum-selling recording artist who has won Juno and MMVA awards, admits, "I'm like one of the kids when I'm at We Day.

"Every single We Day I feel the same: This is something with substance and this is something that's real. Every year it's more passion, more excitement."

This year, Mr. Desman will have eight days to feel like one of the kids. He'll be performing at every one of the We Day events across Canada, from Vancouver to the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

Celebrity performers and speakers, all of whom volunteer their time, are an important part of We Day.

They help make the event into what Ms. Furtado describes as "a rock concert, a rally and the most amazing daytime TV show all at the same time. The production is quite amazing."

As Ms. Furtado, who will be performing at the Sept. 28 We Day at the Air Canada Centre, notes, where else would Justin Bieber and the Dalai Lama appear on the same stage?

"Where else," asks Free the Children founder Craig Kielburger, "will you see the likes of President Mikhail Gorbachev, Martin Sheen, Joe Jonas and Nelly Furtado sharing a stage together?"

The event, Mr. Kielburger says, "brings together some of today's most influential speakers and performers who all have something different to bring to the stage and share with the youth in attendance – whether it's their passion, excitement and energy in their performances, or their personal experiences, wisdom and expertise of the current issues affecting our world."

This year, Mr. Gore and singer/actor Jennifer Hudson will appear in Toronto, along with Mr. Sheen and others.

Someone who's not a big name can have a significant impact at We Day, too. Ms. Furtado recalls how poignant it was to hear a child soldier speaking to the young audience. "It was touching, incredibly moving and eye-opening."

After her performance at last year's We Day, Ms. Furtado announced that she was donating to Free the Children the $1-million she received for performing at a private 2007 party in Italy for the family of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator who was killed in the country's uprising last October.

The transfer of funds from a tyrant indicted for crimes against humanity to a social-justice charity was seen as a stunning turn of events.

And while the celebrities and speakers inspire each other as well as the audience, they, in turn, are turned on by that unique audience: 20,000 passionate young people will be attending We Day Toronto.

Whether you're a pop singer and songwriter like Ms. Furtado, an R&B artist like Mr. Desman or a rock band lead singer like Jacob Hoggard, who performs with his Hedley mates, the experience of being onstage at We Day is like nothing else, they say.

"When I step out on stage I feel the energy," Mr. Desman says. "Until you come to We Day, you can't imagine what that energy is like." It arises, he says, from "those thousands of kids coming together to do positive things."

Last year, Mr. Desman choreographed and performed a We Day dance to his song Night Like This, inviting the audience to join in. "I still get goosebumps thinking about it," he says.

Most meaningful to Mr. Hoggard, though, is not just feeling the energy that wallops and embraces Hedley from the young people in the audience. It's knowing that the energy expresses "a broader sense of fairness manifest in them."

The importance of supporting and encouraging that sense of social justice is what brings celebrities to We Day.

"The more and more I've been paying attention to what's going on in the world," Mr. Hoggard says, "the more I realize it's not getting any prettier out there. And responsibility for the future is going to fall on this generation."

Another reason Mr. Hoggard and Hedley have chosen Free the Children as the cause they want to promote: "It's kids helping kids, an ideological revolution." In turn, he and his fellow celebrities make it cool for kids to join the revolution.

"We're sending the message to these kids that it's cool to be socially accountable and less selfish," Mr. Hoggard says.