Liberty Medal Award Winner: Malala Yousafzai

By Lindsey Crane

On Tuesday, October 21, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal Award ceremony.  This year’s ceremony honored Pakistani children’s advocate, Malala Yousafzai.   I was joined by Intercultural Journeys Board member and Co-Founder Carole Haas Gravagno, Board member Fariha Khan (who was fortunate enough to attend with her three children) and patron Lou Oschmann, in addition to hundreds of other area students, citizens, and dignataries.  Fariha was actually the first person to tell me that Malala would be receiving the Liberty Medal and I am so glad that she did.  Once I heard that this courageous young woman would be in Philadelphia, I knew I had to try and get tickets.  Thankfully, the good people at the National Constitution Center understand the importance of making an event like this accessible to the wider community.  Not only do they have general admission tickets free of charge (first come, first served), they also broadcast the ceremony on their website, allowing everyone with access to the internet the chance to see Malala receive this special award.

Unsurprisingly, there was a huge crowd in attendance.  The ceremony took place on Independence Mall, in front of the National Constitution Center (NCC) and on the opposite end of historic Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed.  There were a number of dignitaries in attendance, including our own Mayor Michael A. Nutter (with well-spoken daughter, Olivia Nutter), the Honorable Edward Rendell, and even Masood Khan, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.  I was particularly excited about one speaker who made a special trip to honor Malala: Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the infamous Little Rock nine, a group of nine African American students who were the first to integrate into Little Rock, Arkansas’ previously segregated public schools.   

After many introductions, Malala took the stage and delivered one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve ever had the opportunity to hear.  If I had a daughter (or a son, for that matter) I would have insisted on them attending the ceremony with me.  We all sat in silence (and perhaps tears) as we heard her impassioned pleas for justice for children all across the world.  To hear her speak, it’s easy to forget that Malala is just 17 years old.  The entire audience shared a laugh at one point in the evening when she reminded us all that she is still a student finishing her secondary education in England.  

It meant a lot to me to be able to see Malala in person and hear her story.  While there are certainly challenges to our education system in the U.S., it was not lost on me that I am deeply fortunate to live in a country where I did not have to worry about having access to a quality education.  I cannot imagine what it would be like if I could not attend school simply because of my gender, but I certainly hope that I would have had the courage that Malala had in standing up against the injustices imposed by the Taliban.  Malala left us all with the notion that the fight for justice, education, and the right’s for children everywhere is not over; there’s still much to be done.

See photos of the evening.

Watch Malala's Liberty Medal Award speech.

Watch the New York Times documentary of Malala's life and work.

Update: Prior to the Liberty Medal Award ceremony, the world learned that Malala would also win the Nobel Peace Prize (by the way, she's the youngest recipient of either award). On Wednesday, December 10, 2014 she formally received the prize in Oslo, Norway.