Her courage has made her a global hero. Her activism has earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. And her bravery has emboldened a generation to stand up for every girl’s right to go to school.
Her name is Malala Yousafzai. And I had the true honor of meeting her last night.
Yesterday, the Pakistani children’s rights advocate traveled to Washington, D.C. with her father, Ziauddin, for a private reception celebrating the launch of the Malala Fund’s campaign to support the documentary He Named Me Malala. The documentary is an intimate portrait of Malala, who, at age 15, was targeted and shot in the head by extremists for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education.
Malala, Ziauddin, and a room filled with Malala Fund partners and friends stood shoulder-to-shoulder to watch the trailer of He Named Me Malala. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch below:
Ziauddin is arguably Malala’s greatest supporter. He was determined to see his daughter receive an education. He encouraged Malala to go to school and study hard, just like her brothers. Last night, he spoke from the heart about how proud he is of his daughter: “When Malala was younger, I led and she followed,” Ziauddin said. “Now, Malala leads and I follow.”
When asked how she felt about being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala responded that she didn’t think she deserved it, insisting that she was too young and that her work was not yet finished.
“My wish is to see every child go to school and get an education,” she said. “It is a big dream, and I know it will take many hard days and long nights. I accepted this award on behalf of the millions of children who are denied this right.”
Malala meets Girl Up! Here she is with Vanessa, Dayna, Rachel, Julie, and honorary Girl Up member Peyton.
What struck me was how approachable Malala seemed. Despite her extraordinary circumstances and accomplishments, she was remarkably relatable. She spoke about her excitement for college – “I hope they will accept me!” she said of one university – and her desire to build up her extracurricular activities. She even commented on her need to get some “real work experience” to make her a more desirable applicant. (Er, does having a Nobel Peace Prize on your college applications count?)
But perhaps the most important thing Malala said all night was this: “We need to tell girls that their voices matter.” It’s a seemingly simple concept, but an important one. We need to come together to protect girls’ rights, support their education and encourage their participation in society. Because when we do that, the world will be flush with Malalas – girls who are breaking glass ceilings, inspiring their communities and building a brighter future.
Thank you, Malala, for being a constant source of inspiration for girls around the world – including me! It was an honor to meet you.