Malala Yousafzai was only 14 years old when a masked man held a gun to her head. Climbing on a school bus in Pakistan, the masked man asked for her by name. Once identified, he then shot her point blank in the head.
Malala lived, and last Friday was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. At 17, Malala is the youngest ever recipient of the award.
Last Friday, I woke up around 8 in the morning and groaned. I had two internships to attend and an endless supply of homework to keep me busy. And I was really fricking pissed about it.
Logging onto Twitter later in the day, I saw several tweets pertaining to Malala’s victory. I was ashamed. I know her story. I admire her greatly. And yet, I have forgotten what she had taught me.
A year ago, I saw Malala’s interview with The Daily Show host Jon Stewart (if you haven’t, check it out here). Moved, I shared the video on my Facebook wall with the following blurb to go with it:
I decided to take 8:30 AM classes Monday through Thursday this semester and have complained incessantly about it. Then I look at this young woman who was not able to attend school at all and was willing to risk her life to obtain it not just for herself, but also for women around the world. From now on, when I mention my exhaustion from my early alarm, I will remember why I am tired in the first place and that is because I am being educated without any adversity. I do not walk to class with fear of gunmen, I do not do my homework fearing that I may not be able to continue it later because my school may be destroyed. It’s time I start appreciating how blessed I am and I hope Malala continues to make the difference she is making. She is an inspiration.
That was posted October 10th, 2013, exactly a year before Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize. Only a goddamn year, and I’m back to the same mindset — a mindset I will actively work towards never cultivating again.
It’s almost effortless to lose sight of our fortunes. It’s simple to succumb to feelings of entitlement. It’s no problem to let vital lessons escape from our minds. And it’s also easy to find reminders. For me, it’s going to be quotes from Malala hung up by my desk.
Now college is hard — really hard. Deadlines are sneaky, the time commitment is endless, the papers get longer and longer, and math classes are a thing. It’s tough and there’s no denying that! But you’re blessed with that 6-page paper and that quadratic equation. You’re empowered by the 4.0 in your English class. You’re not constrained by your homework schedule; you’re liberated by it.
There’s a little girl somewhere out there unable to read because she isn’t allowed. That little girl couldn’t recognize the lettering of her name, nor could she sign it. That little girl can’t write her own story. That little girl could have the cure to cancer within her, she could be the next leader of the world; she could be anything. And she deserves to find out. The world needs her to find out.
Malala was only 11 years old when she started advocating for educational rights. She has written a book of her story, won the Nobel Prize, and has been recognized as symbol of hope. And she’s just getting started. Thank you, Malala, for the bravery you’ve exhibited, the hope you’ve ignited, and the wise words you’ve provided. I can’t wait to see what you do next.