At WE Day events across the world, students couldn't buy their way in; each had to earn their spot by participating in one local and one global service action through the WE Schools Program, which helps schools provide students with service learning and volunteer opportunities. And lucky young volunteers in L.A. were rewarded Thursday (April 27) with a chance to rub elbows with Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and more of their favorite stars.
The WE organization is a global nonprofit that aims to connect young people with chances to serve locally and internationally, through projects such as collecting food for homeless shelters and raising money to build classrooms abroad. This year, WE Day events were held in Montreal, Illinois, Saskatchewan, the United Kingdom, New York and Seattle, in addition to today's event at The Forum in Inglewood, California, which featured a surprise appearance by Oprah Winfrey and a performance by Alicia Keys.
Athletes and activists teamed up with actors and musicians to celebrate students who have participated in the social change movement. The event featured speakers and performers, and celebrities woke up bright and early to hit the blue carpet outside The Forum before the event starting at 8 a.m. PT on Thursday and share why they wanted to participate in WE Day 2017.
Auli'i Cravalho, who voices the lead in Disney's Moana, attended WE Day for the first time and said that, at age 16, it's the perfect time for her and her peers to get active. "I think it's so important for us to come together and for us to really become 'we,'" Cravalho told Billboard. "It starts with me, but it ends with us."
She added that attending the event was inspiring to her and hopefully to the other 16,000 kids in the audience. "I am just so excited with all of these students, and I think they're going to realize that they can make such a big difference, that they are the generation that's going to make a difference, and there's nothing more exciting than that," Cravalho said.
The Disney starlet said she was most excited to see Lily Collins and Selena Gomez on the blue carpet -- and Billboard captured the moment when she got to hug one of her heroes.
All the feels on the #WEDay red carpet. @SelenaGomez @auliicravalho pic.twitter.com/wImP7G2hSD
- billboard (@billboard) April 27, 2017
"Am I Wrong?" duo Nico & Vinz said, as Los Angeles residents, they were excited to attend the event and support kids who are volunteering in their neighborhood. "I think a kind of cool thing about WE Day is early on, [the event is] teaching us young people how rewarding it is to give," Nicolay "Nico" Sereba told Billboard.
The pair were quick to agree on a musician they were both most excited to see at the event: Alicia Keys.
Seventeen-year-old Girl Meets World alum and pop singer Sabrina Carpenter returned to WE Day for the second year in a row. "There's really no other explanation other than it makes you feel like a better person, and if you get the chance to have that on a Thursday morning at 8 o'clock, it's so inspiring," Carpenter told Billboard. "I think there's so much goodness within the WE Day community and within what we can do for each other as this young generation sticking together."
Carpenter added that she hopes kids attending the event will leave knowing that they have a voice. "We have so many creative ideas that we kind of brush off to the side because we're kids, but those are the kind of ideas that change the world," Carpenter said. "I think it's just kind of taking this energy and using it to inspire us to want to live our dreams, to want to be kind to people, to want to spread more love, because we're going to have a much happier existence that way."
Reigning America's Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal said she hopes the event will help kids like herself (she's still only 13) to realize that anyone is capable of making positive changes in their community. "No matter who you are, what age you are, you can still make a difference," VanderWaal told Billboard.
Pop singer/songwriter/actor Jordan Fisher said it can be difficult for young people to pick one specific cause to get involved in, but he recommended that students take time to discover what they're passionate about. He added that just being in an arena filled with other volunteers can be inspiring. "There's something so magical that happens when you pack in thousands of like-minded youth that all have something innate in them in terms of wanting to make an impact," Fisher said.
He also shared his advice for young people looking to get more involved in volunteer work: "Just don't be overwhelmed. Don't feel like you're too small to make an impact, because the smallest changes over time [are like] drops making an ocean."