I want to be Malala when I grow up.
It has been quite an October for the 16-year-old girl shot and left to die on a bus by the Taliban in Pakistan just a year ago this month. She met up with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, and commemorated International Day of the Girl in an interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20. She met with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughter, Malia. She also told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Sunday about her current goal:
“I want to be prime minister.”
It’s no wonder Amanpour calls Malala “The Bravest Girl in the World.”
Oh, and Malala released a book last week, too. I Am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Amazon, $15.60) tells the story of her amazing recovery from her life-threatening injuries, and her desire to carry the message of the importance of education to people, especially young women, all over the world. The only thing that didn’t happen for Malala last week was a Nobel Peace Prize. She was the youngest person ever nominated, but she did not win, although she did pick up the Sakharov Award, the EU’s top human rights prize, last week.
The attempt by Taliban terrorists to end Malala’s life and mission failed. It actually only motivated her to work harder, to speak up louder, and inadvertently gave her a global platform to share with and to inspire others.
Fear is not part of Malala’s story, but grace and courage are. She told Jon Stewart that she had often thought before the attack of what she might do if the Taliban found her, but she always knew that violence was not the answer, no matter what.
“If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib,” she said. “You must not treat others that much with cruelty, and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace, through dialogue, and through education. I would tell [the Talib] how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well. I would tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’”
Stewart was visibly moved.
“I know your father is backstage, and he’s very proud of you, but would he be mad if I adopted you? Because you sure are swell,” he said.
It was really with the airing of this interview that America stood up and paid attention to Malala. I know I did, anyway. I had read her story from the beginning, but watching her on stage just a year after nearly dying, speaking with conviction, humor, and absolutely no fear about what happened to her and what she chose to do as a result was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen on television or anywhere.
What makes a young person react to a deadly attack with this kind of resolve and the desire to make a literal global impact, instead of giving in to fear? What puts her on stages with the most famous people in the world, with a simply spoken desire to make life better for people? The option was there for her to take the easier path, and she just didn’t. Listening to her, it’s obvious that that wouldn’t have been an option, and that is the most impressive thing about her.
It’s so great to see people like Jon Stewart, who interviews heavy political hitters every day, more impressed than I’ve ever seen him by a teenager with a mission to make life better for others. It’s good to see a positive move for peace and education on late night talk shows, on primetime television, and on the front pages of news and entertainment sites. It’s encouraging to note that I Am Malala is #1 among all biographies and memoirs on Amazon, and #3 among books for teens. As a college teacher, I think it should be required reading, in a time when so many kids are searching for answers and watching media reports filled with conflict, violence, discouraging economic and political news, and very few messages of hope and courage as profound as Malala’s story.
And lest we think she’s all seriousness? She’s still a teenager, with some pretty standard musical tastes. Amanpour tweeted:
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) October 13, 2013
Malala shows us that there is always a choice, no matter what happens in our lives. As she told the United Nations Youth Assembly in a July address, “They shot my friends, too. They thought that a bullet would silence us, but they failed. The terrorists thought that they would change my aim, and stop my ambition, but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”
You can follow the #iammalala Twitter hashtag to learn more about support for her mission, and to share a message of your own. You can also follow The Malala Fund, her official organization focused on helping girls go to school and raise their voices for the right to education.
Many celebrities have popped up on social media supporting Malala’s message, expressing the same kind of awe at her strength in the face of violent attack and oppression that I feel every time I watch a clip of her speaking, or read her words. Let’s take a look at what some of them had to say.