Watching Malala receive the Liberty Medal was an inspirational experience
Shortly after becoming the youngest person in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai received the 2014 Liberty Medal at a ceremony in Philadelphia's National Constitution Center for her "continued demonstration of courage and resilience in the face of adversity and for serving as a powerful voice for those who have been denied their basic human rights and liberties."
When accepting the award, Yousafzai said, "It's an honor to be awarded the Liberty Medal. I accept this award on behalf of all the children around the world who are struggling to get an education." She then pledged to donate her $100,000 prize to help educate the children of Pakistan.
For a lucky handful of CHC students, that October evening was educational and inspirational, as well as a chance to see history made – Yousafzai is also the youngest recipient of the Liberty Medal. Led by Lorraine Coons, Ph.D., professor of history and chair of the History and Political Science Department, the group had choice seats, only a few rows from the stage.
"When I heard that Malala was going to be in Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Award, I knew this would be an excellent learning experience for students in the Women in Global Society seminar that I was teaching this fall," Coons says. "Malala is a voice for the 66 million young girls around the world who are being deprived of their basic human right to an education. I dedicated the seminar to her and my students read her book. I was thrilled to get an email from the Constitution Center saying that we could attend the ceremony and be a part of history."
Senior Colin Ceasar Boyle wants to teach high school history and felt connected to Yousafzai's dedication to fighting for education for everyone around the world, and to her understanding of the impact education has on one's life.
"Her call for people to stand up to make a difference is inspirational," says Boyle. "She's proof that one person can make an impact. I find her story remarkably brave."
His classmate, Elizabeth Anne Bachmayer '16, who also wants to be a high school history teacher, has been following Yousafzai's story since she was shot by the Taliban for her outspoken advocacy of education for all. She was excited about attending the event because she wanted to see history made.
"Malala is an inspiration for everyone who wants to learn," she says. "Malala is a role model for my future students who will inspire them in their education."
The students in the seminar also held a fundraiser to support the work of The Malala Fund. "In addition to the baked goods for sale, the students' goal was to raise awareness on campus about Malala and her struggle for the empowerment of girls worldwide," said Coons. "The seminar contribution of $200 will help the Malala Fund in subsidizing projects like the rebuilding of schools in Gaza and education programs for Syrian refugee children in Northern Jordan whose access to education has been denied them in the wake of the civil war that has ravaged their country."
Such a service-learning project has been a wonderful complement to seminar discussions this semester about the need for activism to bring a positive change in the lives of millions of disenfranchised women, she adds. As Malala tells us: "One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world."