Malala Yousafzai Delivers Moving Speech at UN Youth Assembly, Celebrates 16th Birthday

Wearing a pink shawl that once belonged to slain Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, education activist Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday today by delivering a brilliant speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly. The UN has officially declared today Malala Day.

“The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born,” said Malala in her speech. Her beaming father looked on as her mother wiped her tears.

After surviving a Taliban assassination attempt on October 9, 2012 for relentlessly advocating for girls’ education rights, the teenage hero made a miraculous recovery. Millions across the world sent letters and donations to Malala and her cause, specifically The Malala Fund, which was created in the wake of her hospitalization. Today marks The Malala Fund’s first day as an independent, non-governmental organization.

Malala made it clear in her speech that the path to equal education and rights for all children remains a top priority for her and other activists across the globe.

“We must not forget that millions of children are out of schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright, peaceful future. So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism, and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education First.” Her words were followed by a rousing round of applause.

Malala has become a beacon of hope, courage, and peace to millions around the world. Her strength and defiant voice drove many to tears, including me. After referencing activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, Malala appeared more than ready to stand beside the peaceful leaders before her.

Before ending her speech, Malala raised her voice once more: “Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child's bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education for everyone. No one can stop us. We will speak for our rights and we will bring change through our voice. We must believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the world.”

These are the words of the world’s next great leader.

Sources: NBC News, New York Magazine

Photo via USA Today

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