Thousands of young people gathered at KeyArena with local sports stars and celebrities Thursday for a day of empowerment and motivational speakers.

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When Pete Carroll, who lives life on a natural caffeine rush, says he was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of Craig Kielburger, you know it’s a match made in heaven.

And when Carroll was center stage at KeyArena on Thursday, leading the 16,000 assembled youngsters and teachers in chanting first “Sea-Hawks!” and then “We-Day!”, you know he’s found the perfect vehicle for his brand of community involvement.

“Everything about this is right,’’ Carroll had said earlier in the day. “Everything about this is good.”

And after witnessing more than four hours of enthused young people totally focused on one inspiring speaker after another, I can’t argue. As Laila Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter, told the crowd, “I want my kids to grow up to be just like you guys.”

While most of the biggest roars came for celebrities like co-host Shay Mitchell of the television show “Pretty Little Liars” and the sports headliners like Carroll (introduced by Macklemore), Seahawks Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham (in his first public appearance since his trade), Bobby Wagner and Luke Willson, Sounders Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, and Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno, it was the human stories that touched the heart.

Stories like that of Gracie Ury, a young singer who used the proceeds from her CD to build a fish pond in Africa and an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Or that of Kat Tisornia, a sophomore at Mercer Island High School who battled Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, and then went to work raising money for pediatric cancer awareness with her “Kat’s Crew” fundraiser.

I met future leaders like Alka Pai of the Tesla STEM School in Redmond, who is a prime example of what speaker Kweku Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, called “the young lions of our future.” Pai has won $5,000 in grant money that she’s using for programs to teach middle-school girls about computer science and basic programming.

“I wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to me,’’ Pai said. “That was my goal in doing this. I also knew a lot about the gender gap in the technology field right now, and I wanted to tackle that issue I faced first-hand.”

Kielburger, the Canadian founder of the international charity Free The Children, conceived We Day, along with his brother, Marc, as a means to empower youth to take action on local and global issues.

When Carroll heard Kielburger speak in Tacoma at a Desmond Tutu event, he knew he had found a kindred spirit. Carroll contacted Kielburger a few days later after researching his work, and said he wanted to get involved. When Kielburger told him he wanted to expand We Day from Canada into America, Carroll immediately signed up as co-chair.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to do that now. Let’s go,’ ” Carroll recalled. “We just sort of joined arms and went after it. … It’s such an obvious movement that once people become aware of it, everyone wants to take part in it.”

The attendees, who came from 520 schools and groups around the state, earned their (free) tickets by taking on one local and one global cause of their choice. Kielburger said that 125,000 students around the Pacific Northwest actually met the criteria, helping raise more than $700,000 for local and global initiatives. Since the first We Day in Seattle in 2013, students have logged nearly 1.2 million hours of volunteer service.

Kielburger said of Carroll, “If I could gush about this guy, We Day wouldn’t be here without him. Hands down. It wouldn’t be in the Pacific Northwest without Coach.’’

Carroll recruited Connie Ballmer, the wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, as his co-chair, and made the call that resulted in Microsoft signing on as a founding partner.

On stage, where big-name musical acts like The Head And The Heart and Lennon and Maisy from ABC’s “Nashville” performed throughout the day, Carroll had no problem linking We Day to the Seahawks’ success.

“Our team, just like your team, comes from all over, different backgrounds,’’ he said. “We celebrate uniqueness. We look for the special attributes people on our team have. And then we try to bring it to the surface. There’s something so beautiful about recognizing the special attributes and the special character of the people around you.”

Nate Hatch, a survivor of the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, introduced the Seahawks players, who spoke about the family-like bonds within their team.

“Being here on the inside, you truly see how much of a brotherhood it is,” Graham said.

Baldwin brought down the house by pulling off his Seahawks jersey and revealing a Sonics jersey underneath.

“I thought you might like that,’’ he said.

At one point, Baldwin took over the introduction of Wilson and said jokingly, “Ladies and gentlemen, standing at 5-foot-7 …”

Wilson interjected, “Still taller than Doug Baldwin.”

Turning serious, Wilson urged the youngsters, “At the end of the day, believe in yourselves. All these guys, we’ve been underdogs. We know what it’s like. We know what it’s like for all you guys.”

It was heartwarming to feel the energy in the room and the vibe of acceptance, tolerance and social consciousness.

And as Dempsey told me later, “I’m pretty sure some kids in that room are going to make some big things happen for us in the future.”