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  • Writer's pictureSOPHIE AUSTIN '17

What It's Like to See Malala In Person

On October 21, 2016, my mother, a pediatric dentist, brought me to attend the annual American Dental Association meeting in Denver, Colorado where Malala Yousafzai was the keynote speaker. Malala’s father and biggest motivator, Ziauddin Yousafzaim named her after Malalai of Maiwand, “a woman who spoke out and was punished for it.” Yousafzaim wanted his daughter be a woman who would speak out against injustice and exceed limitations. Currently aged 19, Malala started an organization called The Malala Fund with a goal of making sure that every girl in the world has the opportunity to be educated safely and thoroughly for 12 years.

When we got to the conference, I was exhausted from not getting any sleep the night before--lit essay, Youtube videos, and excitement. A line of dentists, dental students, and their friends and family reached around corner upon corner throughout the building. When we entered the theater, colorful lights were beaming every which way, and a medley of songs of girl empowerment rung in our ears, from “Born This Way” to “Firework” to “Confident.” Oh yeah, and there was a lot of Alicia Keys.

Malala began her talk with how she was in the process of applying to colleges--the audience’s reaction implied they know she will not have any trouble gaining admission. She then proceeded to tell her story about how she was shot by a Taliban member in October of 2012 while on the busride home from school. What she didn’t explicitly mention was that prior to the assassination attempt, she had been boldly expressing the necessity of having girls educated, and was becoming increasingly recognizable. The Taliban had intended to silence the educational equality movement by shooting her, but the movement could still not be stopped.

Following her speech, Malala led a Q&A session. Her wisdom and experiences as a young woman of only 19 amazed the audience. When asked her favorite book, she named The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In response to a question about how to expel terrorism, Malala responded, “Well, we elect world leaders so that they can solve problems like that.” Overall, though, Malala made clear that “education is the answer.” It is the ideology that needs to be wiped out, not people, as a result of hypocritical violence. Her key message, however, was that just as her father did for her, society must acknowledge the incredible potential of women, and to relinquish our wings to let us fly.

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