by Jennifer Rohrbach

(Editor’s note: Jennifer, a first-year English major, had the opportunity to attend the Liberty Medal ceremony in Philadelphia honoring Malala Yousafzai, and shares her thoughts here.  Thanks, Jennifer!)

Malala Yousafzai has become a household name within the last decade since the young Pakistani woman began her journey, one that would spark a movement in women’s rights and the right to education. I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Liberty Medal Ceremony in Philadelphia, where Malala Yousafzai became its youngest recipient ever. The ceremony was attended by diplomats, political officials, and various other public figures. Across the aisle sat a section of schoolchildren, and behind them sat students from universities all over the East Coast. Cheers erupted from the crowd as Malala joined other important speakers on the stage, such as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Susan Corbett, and Minnijean Brown Trickey of the Little Rock Nine.

17-Year-Old Pakistani Activist Malala Yousafzai Receives Liberty Medal; image courtesy of Getty Images
17-Year-Old Pakistani Activist Malala Yousafzai Receives Liberty Medal; image courtesy of Getty Images

Malala was chosen as the 26th recipient of the Liberty Medal—an honor shared by Hilary Clinton, Muhammad Ali, and former president Jimmy Carter—for her “continued demonstration of courage and resilience in the face of adversity and for serving as a powerful voice for those who have been denied their basic human rights and liberties.” Malala follows 6 previous recipients of the Liberty Medal who have also subsequently received the Nobel Peace Prize. At 17 years old, she is the youngest recipient of both awards.

Malala grew up in Mingora located in the Swat District of Pakistan. In 2009, she began writing anonymously for a BBC blog about her life under Taliban rule. She was, and remains, a consequential advocate for the right to education and equality for women. However, the progressive views of Malala and her father, who also advocated for right to education, made Malala a target. In 2012 she was shot by the Taliban in an attempt to silence her influence. She was sent to a hospital in the United Kingdom where she made a miraculous recovery.

However, this incident is not the only reason Malala has inspired millions to join her campaign. Despite threats and attempts on her life, Malala continues to fight for childhood education and especially for girls’ rights to education. Her portrait hangs outside our own Kapelski Learning Center, and her activism exposes the inequality of basic human rights in other countries that we, as Americans, often take for granted. “I speak for those without a voice, I speak for girls who have been persecuted,” said Yousafzai to a room of 1,400 teachers, politicians, students, and everything in between. The audience applauded and cheered as she accepted the 2014 Liberty Medal and closed the evening with her famous statement: “One book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.”

(Editor’s note:  You can watch Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel speech here.)