Malala Yousafzai, a 21-year-old Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was the presented the 2018 Gleitsman Award by The Center for Public Leadership Thursday night at the Harvard Institute of Politics.
The Gleitsman Award is given to leaders who have made positive social and global changes and have inspired other people to take action as well.
Yousafzai was 15 years old when she was on a bus that was raided by a man involved with the Taliban who reportedly asked, “Who is Malala?” Shots were fired, and Yousafzai woke up in a hospital the United Kingdom.
“We are a generation of activists,” Yousafzai said at the presentation. “We are challenging the system. We are challenging corruption in the system. We are challenging any kind of discrimination in the system, and we are here to speak up to all those sisters and brothers who need a voice.”
Not only did Yousafzai say she is concerned with solving the issue of limited access to education for girls, but she said she is dedicated to improving the lives of all individuals by making the world a more bearable place.
“The challenge I have taken,” Yousafzai said in the discussion before the award presentation, “is actually to ensure that all of us can get a quality education.”
Yousafzai recognized that the majority of the crowd was made up of students and encouraged them to follow their dreams. She said she believes that with persistence and a vision, anyone can achieve their goals.
“I wish I could change the world,” Yousafzai said. “I could make everyone have the right to education. I could make sure no one was poor, and everyone had food and shelter, and everyone was happy.”
The room was filled with 60 congressmen, eight young African-American school girls, Harvard faculty, students from universities around Boston and reporters.
Zamzam Mohammed, of Kenya, who attended the discussion, said she is pursuing her master’s degree at Harvard Law School. She said she thinks Yousafzai is a strong role model for young girls.
“She gives so much hope to so many girls, including myself,” the 24-year-old said, “who come from these communities where you don’t really have a voice, and I think she really stood out.”
Ghazi Mirza, 28, of Cambridge, said he is a student in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and hopes to return to Pakistan to be a role model for students.
“I work in education in Pakistan,” Mirza said, “which is why this was a natural attraction for me and other educators as well.”
Mirza said he wants Pakistani children to know that they can achieve their dreams. He said he has been inspired by Yousafzai ever since she made a comeback from the assassination attempt.
“I think she is the perfect motivation, not only for girls, but also educators trying to change the world and make it a better place,” he said.
Roshni Mehta, 24, of Cambridge, who is working toward her master’s degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said she thinks the issues Malala is passionate about have a significant importance to the world.
“I am so inspired by Malala,” Mehta said. “At such a young age, she had the courage to literally stand up at gunpoint and stand up for her values, and despite going through such a life-changing incident, she still stuck on that journey.”
Mehta said she was pleasantly surprised by the large number of Pakistani students who came to the event to show their support. She said these Pakistani students strive to go back to their home country after attending American universities to share their knowledge with the younger generations.
“I was really impressed by some of the questions that were asked by Pakistani students here at Harvard who have every intention to go back with their education,” Mehta said.
Yousafzai said people need to remember their humanity and recognize the danger the world is facing.
“Let’s be human, and let’s understand that we are all living on this one planet Earth, which is already endangered,” Yousafzai said. “It is already in great risk from climate change, and we all need to think about how we all are endangered. We need to be more positive and be more humanly.”