Archishop Tutu aimed his address toward the teenagers and other young people in the audience. The 78-year-old South African religious leader commended those who leave their comfortable homes to help others living in poverty.
"You young people are the ones that God wants to enlist," Tutu said. "Because you young people are idealists. You dream dreams."
Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, joked with the audience, and invoked biblical stories of David and Goliath and Mary and Jesus as examples of people achieving greatness despite overwhelming obstacles.
His talk largely avoided references to current conflicts, but he received a rousing response as he railed against war.
"Why do we spend billions on instruments of death and destruction when we could use a very small fraction of those budgets of death and ensure that children -- our sisters and brothers -- children everywhere in the world would have clean water to drink, would have enough food to eat, would have a decent home, would have a good education," Tutu said.
Tutu came across as a statesman and an innocent as he appealed to each individual in the audience for help achieving his dream of a better world. "And I have no one, except you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you to help me realize my dream. Please, please, please, help me."
The conference is organized by the National Youth Leadership Council, which incorporates service projects into school curricula.
Taylor Reed, a sophmore at Minneapolis' Blake School, is an active member of youthrive, another sponsor of the event. She says Tutu's words connected with her.
"He's wiser, he's older. He can tell us so many things that we would be interested in," said Reed. "But he can also just come to our level and say, 'I want to dance with you guys, I want to kid around with you guys.' He tells jokes."
Ruth Adu-Gyamfi, 22, a University of Minnesota student, sees Tutu's words as inspiration for her ambitions.
"One of my biggest goals is to run for president in Ghana, where I'm originally from. And just listening to him speak, and knowing what he's done for South Africa is a very motivating for me," said Adu-Gyamfi.
Tutu is scheduled to appear at several events throughout the weekend. Tracina Coward helped organize one of them, in which she and others have been working since August to get pledges of non-violence from residents in distressed north Minneapolis.
"Asking gangs to put down their guns and put down their differences, and understand that they're part of the community," said Coward, "and for them to be destroying the community the way they are -- we would like them to be more involved."
Tutu is also scheduled to visit Red Wing Correctional Facility to discuss ways to make friends out of enemies with 120 young men incarcerated there.
Rudy Balles is a staff member with the Denver-based Peace Jam Foundation, which is responsible for bringing Tutu to Red Wing.
"We're bringing in different Nobel Laureates year after year -- a commitment to this facility and young people who are incarcerated in our country right now to start to address these issues and problems, and how do we rehabilitate and support our youth so we don't lose them," said Balles.
Peace Jam is an annual event that brings in Nobel laureates to interact with students performing community service.
Tutu is giving a public lecture tonight, and also attending several non-public events throughout the weekend.