"You might have heard my story. That I come from Pakistan, and at age 11, terrorism started in Swat Valley, and I started speaking out for my rights at that time, because girl’s education was banned, and to me that was not just banning school, not just me not going to that one building. It was stopping me from achieving my dreams and going forward in life."
Malala Yousafzai, humanitarian, author, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was this year’s first speaker of UB’s Distinguished Speaker’s Series. On Sept. 19, the 21-year-old discussed education, the necessity of empowering young girls and how women globally can become agents of positive change.
The youngest Nobel Laureate, receiving the award at the age of 17, and the 10th Nobel Peace Prize recipient to speak at the University at Buffalo, Yousafzai is best known for being "the young woman who took on the Taliban because she wanted to go to school."
Yousafzai began her speech by explaining what her life would have been like if she had not been able to go to school and travel the world as a champion for girl’s education. Yousafzai told the audience that, like many other girls, she would have gotten married, and at the age of 12 or 13 would have become a wife and a mother. When Yousafzai realized that many women are either thrown out of their schools or cannot attend school, she started speaking out for the cause of education.
"While I was speaking out, the extremists, they made such a big mistake. Because they wanted to silence me in Swat Valley and in Pakistan. And now, I’m speaking globally for all girls," said Yousafzai.
After Yousafzai was injured and brought to the United Kingdom, she realized that she was in a strong position, and that she had the opportunity to raise the voices of girls all around the world.
Yousafzai then set up the Malala Fund to achieve her goal of sending all girls to school.
Yousafzai explained that her goal is to empower, both people and global leaders. Throughout her campaigning, she has realized that empowering global leaders results in change for whole communities.
Yousafzai went on to describe what she believes is a quality education: one that delivers the message of harmony and communicates ideas of tolerance.
During her experiences, Yousafzai has seen the divisions created among people. Firmly believing that differences should not be used to create hate, Yousafzai emphasized the importance of communicating with neighbors and gaining knowledge about others.
"Diversity is beauty, and I am so happy to know so much about the world," said Yousafzai.
In her speech, Yousafzai cited listening as the most important quality that she sees in a leader. When asked about her sources of courage and strength, she mentioned her father, saying that his willingness to listen to her as a child, and his encouragement for her to believe in herself allowed her to realize how important her voice was for bringing change.
"Women need to be brave and believe in themselves," said Yousafzai. "Because, often you are the first person to stop yourself. Don’t be a barrier to yourself."
Throughout her journey, Yousafzai’s most important experience was deciding to speak out again after she was injured. Resolving to speak out for all girls around the world to get an education, Yousafzai was strengthened the most when she decided to continue her fight.
"I think the first thing that young people need to do is not underestimate the power that they have. In their voice, in the steps that they can take. Never doubt yourself. Always believe in yourself. I was only 11 when I started speaking out. I believed that it was the right way to express my opinion and it was the right way that I should raise my voice for what is right," said Yousafzai during her speech.
While explaining ways young adults can get involved with her campaign, Yousafzai mentioned her website, Malalafund.org, saying that there are always ways for young people to help, through fundraising, sharing her story or raising awareness.
On a similar note, Yousafzai encouraged young adults to take advantage of social media, and use accessible online platforms for highlighting issues that an individual might feel strongly about. She described social media as a significant tool for instigating change.
At the conclusion of the event, Yousafzai defended her core belief in the power of education.
"Education is the key to all the other goals. We have to empower the future generation, and then through that we can make society more prosperous."
Annabeth Collis is a junior at Williamsville North High School.