Youth Dialogue in Saskatoon

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Youth Dialogue on the Occasion of International Year of Youth

Saskatoon, Monday, August 23, 2010

How are you?

I am so pleased to be here at EGADZ, the Downtown Saskatoon Youth Centre. This is in fact my first visit to your city, so I am delighted to have this opportunity to celebrate the International Year of Youth with you, the young “movers and shakers” of Saskatoon.

Today marks the third Youth Dialogue I have held in Canada to celebrate the Year.

Two weeks ago, I launched it with hundreds of young people during a youth forum at Rideau Hall, and a celebration on Parliament Hill. I was so proud to watch the young participants convince decision-makers to commit to including them as full partners in planning efforts to improve the national capital region.

Then last week, I joined two-hundred young leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador at Memorial University, where we discussed the challenges they face in their communities. Their testimonies were so moving that the Premier of the province agreed to reconvene a follow-up youth dialogue to find concrete solutions to the issues raised. Such is the power of the youth voice!

Today, I am delighted to be here in Saskatoon, to hear and learn from you.

Because I believe in your words of hope.

I believe in the work you are pursuing to improve your lives, your communities, and our society.

I also would like to deepen my understanding of youth engagement in Canada by learning about the unique ways you, the youth of Saskatchewan, are instilling hope in your communities.

Over the last five years of my tenure, I have traveled across Canada to meet young people who are addressing serious social issues.

Whether in graffiti galleries, indigenous communities, after school drop-in centres, boys and girls clubs, recording studios, organizations for homeless youth, high schools, universities, and even a prison, the young Canadians I encountered are at the forefront of cutting-edge community-based initiatives.

Despite youth achievements, there are still those who laugh off your ideas as being too utopian or idealist.

Even though their criticisms may sting, I encourage you not to let them stick. It’s just not worth it. Just take their accusations as compliments, and have the courage to turn them on their head.  

For these people should know that for any revolution and major turning point in world history, young people have always been deeply involved.

Let’s think about it.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even the election of the First African American president of the United States of America—an incredible feat given the country’s legacy of slavery and racial segregation.

History teaches us that we need ideals to inspire us to fight for a better world.

But history also teaches us that we need youth to help us achieve our collective aspirations.

For empowering youth is empowering a community, it is empowering a city, and it is empowering a nation.

So please remember this the next time you are challenged. Do not let yourself be intimidated.

Stand up for your communities, and convince your friends, your peers, your parents, the local business-owner down the road, and especially elected officials to join you in reinventing the world. This is how to ignite change.

Let us be clear: youth are the leaders of today, and it is here and now that we need to listen to your ideas, to hear your perspectives, and to welcome you to the decision-making table.

That is why I want to highlight youth initiatives, through my “Can We Talk” youth dialogue series, whenever and wherever I can. 

Having seen you at work, I know that your efforts carry the promise of a better society.

Some say it takes a community to raise a child.

I would add that it takes youth creativity to uplift a society.

You have what it takes.

That is why I look forward to continue working with you and young people across the country, through a new foundation, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which will be headquartered in Ottawa and will focus on empowering youth organizations across Canada.

The theme of the International Year of Youth, dialogue and mutual understanding, reminds us that we have an individual and collective responsibility to address issues that divide us by building upon the goals and aspirations we have in common.

So dear friends, now is the time for you to be daring in your ideas and to be audacious in your suggestions.

The world has your back! And policy shapers and decision-makers are prepared to listen.

Please seize the moment. The floor is yours!