ABOVE PHOTO: Malala Yousafzai proudly holds her Liberty Medal award up to crowds at the National Constitution Center. Yousafzai is the seventh Liberty Medal recipient to also receive the Nobel Peace Prize and youngest ever to be named as a Nobel laureate. (Photo by Bill Z. Foster)
By Kathy Matheson
A Pakistani teenager awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote girls’ education has been honored with the Liberty Medal.
Malala Yousafzai accepted the medal, which is given annually at the National Constitution Center to someone who strives to secure freedom for people around the world, on Tuesday. She implored world leaders to spend money on education, not wars, and to solve their differences with words.
“Education is the best weapon against poverty, ignorance and terrorism,” she said.
Yousafzai, who’s 17, recently became the world’s youngest Nobel laureate. Organizers of the Liberty Medal ceremony didn’t know that would be the case when they decided months ago to honor her. But the coincidence might have been expected: She has become the seventh Liberty Medal recipient to subsequently receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Malala’s courageous fight for equality and liberty from tyranny is evidence that a passionate, committed leader, regardless of age, has the power to ignite a movement for reform,” said Jeb Bush, chairman of the National Constitution Center, which sponsors the medal.
Tuesday’s ceremony included speeches from women with powerful stories about education, including Minnijean Brown Trickey, who helped integrate an Arkansas high school in 1957, and University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann, a first-generation college student, who praised Yousafzai for her “compelling vision and immense courage.”
Yousafzai began her activism six years ago by using an alias to write for the BBC about living under Taliban rule. In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head while she was returning from school because of her vocal support for gender equality and education for girls.
She ended up being treated for her injury in Britain, where she recovered and continues to live with her family. She has continued her activism on those issues through speaking engagements, a best-selling book and a nonprofit organization called the Malala Fund.
She said Tuesday that when the Taliban approached her she had two options: not speak and wait to be killed or speak and then be killed.
“Why should I not speak?” she said. “It is our duty.”
She said the Taliban tried to silence her, but, “I think they committed a big mistake.”
The day she was shot, she recalled, “Weakness, fear and hopelessness died, and strength, power and courage were born.”
Her appearance in Philadelphia on Tuesday came less than two weeks after she became the youngest Nobel laureate, sharing the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India.
The Liberty Medal comes with a $100,000 award, which Yousafzai said she’ll spend in Pakistan on children who need education and other support. Organizers cited Yousafzai’s courage, resilience and advocacy for those denied basic human rights and liberties.
Previous recipients of the Liberty Medal who went on to win the Peace Prize include former South African President Nelson Mandela, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
The National Constitution Center is dedicated to increasing public understanding of the Constitution and the ideas and values it represents.