Canadian Student Leaders Ignite Innovation at SJAM

The Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC) kicked off yesterday at Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School (SJAM) with an ice-breaking carnival and fun-filled opening gala. As the school day ended for SJAM students, who will attend school remotely for the next three days via online learning, the school began to fill with more than 1,000 energetic visitors from across the country.

This is CSLC’s 33rd year bringing together secondary student leaders to make new connections and learn new skills. Sandy Millar and Stephan Gray, WRDSB teachers and co-chairs of the conference, have been working with a dedicated team for three years to bring the conference back to our school district.

The event’s theme, Startup Leadership: Ignite Your Innovative Spirit reflects Waterloo region’s culture of entrepreneurship, and our own district’s focus on innovation. John Bryant, Director of Education, remarked in his welcome message that, “Waterloo Region District School Board is part of a rich community of world-class innovation.”

This region sparkles with talented innovators creating new ideas from quantum computers and Hyperloop transport to progressive thinking on gender issues and social justice.

John Bryant, Director of Education

The gala began as students cheered with excitement, each province flooding the gym in the order they joined confederation. The inspiring event was kicked off in a burst of confetti by student masters of ceremonies, Jake Choi and Hanne Kuhnert, followed by the moves of Twisted Ankles Dance Crew, and later a performance by Blue Sky Singers.

An impressive list of dignitaries welcomed the students, including a video message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spoke about the curiosity, creativity and limitless potential of today’s young people. Catherine Fife, MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, who will also lead two workshops on women in politics during the conference, spoke of the need for “diverse, youthful voices… to help shape change towards equality.”

Ken Seiling, Regional Chair, and mayors Doug Craig (Cambridge), Berry Vrbanovic (Kitchener) and Dave Jaworsky (Waterloo) worked together to deliver a warm welcome from the region.

Jennifer Shortreed, SJAM Principal, asked students to consider the passion, inspiration, teamwork and presence they could learn from the examples of leadership all the speakers demonstrated. She also asked them to consider the power of their own knowledge, and invited each guest to turn to their neighbours and declare, “I want to learn from you, and I have something to teach you.”

As the gala came to a close with a dance party featuring local DJ Vekked, a roomful of over 300 community members gathered upstairs in the library to receive instructions on hosting our student guests. These billeting families are proof of the quality of community built around our schools, and the feelings of responsibility toward education, leadership and innovation to which Waterloo Region is committed.