By Katie Nelson
Contra Costa Times.
Malala. The name alone inspires empowerment, perseverance and wisdom. Malala Yousafzai, just weeks shy of her 18th birthday, evokes courage, strength in the face of terror, and more.
And as she walked out Friday night onto the stage at San Jose State University’s Event Center, the teenager, glancing out at the cheering audience, was above all else humble. Clad in a yellow and light blue outfit with a floral headscarf, the first thing out of the grinning teen’s mouth: “Thank you.”
In a nearly hourlong discussion with famed San Jose author Khaled Hosseini, known for his books “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” Malala showed no stage fright and never stumbled over her words — qualities often abundantly clear in the average teenager.
But Malala is not average. She is extraordinary.
“If I wouldn’t have chosen to speak, then I would have had to continue my whole life in a situation of terrorism,” the Nobel Peace Prize recipient said. “If you want to change society, if you want to see change, you must step forward to bring change.”
“And I’m standing here and seeing people standing with me on this campaign of education … for every girl around the world.”
In the interview with Hosseini, Malala covered a wide range of topics surrounding her unyielding devotion to educating women as well as for peace between nations. She advocated for allowing girls to attend school to read and write, but to also be individuals, free from the constraints of societal pressures to be submissive to men.
She passionately pushed for understanding and peace, because as she explained, the world cannot change for the better if cultures stay stuck on misperceptions of right and wrong based on ideologies promoted by small but influential groups in power.
She also talked at length about her life before becoming a worldwide sensation, cracking jokes about her brothers and reminiscing about her home in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, where her father built a school and where he inspired her from an early age.
Malala credits her father’s progressive beliefs in a conservative culture as her beacon of hope for her future as well as the catalyst for her ability to speak out for herself and for other girls who want to pursue an education.
But even fathers and daughters don’t always get along, no matter how much one inspires the other.
“I do have an inspiring father, but I do fight with him,” she said with a wry smile. “We’re not perfect. I mean, we just had a fight in the car.”
While Malala’s father played a major role in the origin of her advocacy work, Malala became an international sensation after she was shot in the head in October 2012 by a 15-year-old working for the Taliban.
Malala spoke in an even tone as she detailed the events that led up to the shooting and said she is grateful she does not remember when the teen leaned over into a van carrying her and some school friends home and shot her in the face.
Hosseini said that “technically, he shot the right girl,” but concluded that “in every way, he shot the wrong girl.”
“If the gunman thought he was going to quiet her with his bullet, end her story with his bullet, he was wrong,” Hosseini said. “Malala’s story is merely beginning.”
Of the shooting, she said simply: “I have forgiven him. I was never angry.”
And Hosseini was not the only one in attendance in awe of Malala’s story and her progress with advocating for female education and empowerment.
Hosseini’s niece, 12-year-old Lailee Zakir, beamed with excitement as she waited for Malala on Friday night.
A poised preteen, Lailee said she had read Malala’s book and was inspired by her peer’s message, and she wanted to incorporate more of Malala’s mindset into her own life.
“When my parents are yelling at me or if I get grounded, I think about it and I realize that I shouldn’t complain,” she said. “There are other people all over the world going through so much more.
“(Malala) believes, and I think too, that you can do anything,” she added. “I can take a stand for something too.”