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Lessons from Malala

by Melissa Brunner

Oh, what we can learn from a teenaged girl.

I admit to being a little disappointed when I awoke Friday morning and learned Malala Yousafzai was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Not that the group searching out chemical weapons isn't worthy, but Malala's story is nothing short of amazing.

Don't worry about Malala, though. A Twitter account representing her sent a message congratulating the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on its "wonderful work for humanity." Not only that, in an interview with CNN before the prize was announced, Malala said, at the age of 16, a win might be a bit premature.

Who knows what the future has in store for Malala. For today, we would all do well to remember the message she has brought forward. All she wanted to do was attend school and get an education. I understand and respect cultural differences that hold the male's role as dominant, but I cannot fathom holding that belief so strongly that you would seek to kill a little girl as an example of may happen to those who defy the norms.

Malala was shot in the head a year ago by a militant as she rode home from school. Two of her classmates were wounded in the attack as well. Against all odds, she not only survived - her voice is stronger than ever. She is marking the one-year anniversary by publishing her memoir. The Pakistani Taliban is marking it by threatening any bookstore that sells it and renewing their threats on Malala's life.

The Taliban worries about a little girl.

For her part, Malala does not worry about them. She has said several times that she does not hate them, that she does not seek revenge. In a speech to the United Nations, she said that if she had a gun in her hand and her attacker in front of her, she would not shoot. To strike back, she says, would make her the same as a Talib. Books and pens, she says, are our most powerful weapons.

It would be understandable if, after all she has endured, Malala simply wanted to be left alone. Instead, she continues to step out and speak up. She told the United Nations, "I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard."

Malala understands that she is not a symbol that can inspire change, for herself, for her friends, for her nation and for the world.

"They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed," she said. " (O)ut of that silence came thousands of voices. 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."

Indeed, what we all can learn from a teenaged girl.

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