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Happy Birthday, Malala

Yesterday was Malala Day, the sixteenth birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl the Taliban tried to murder for demanding her own right, and the right of all girls, to an education. She spoke before the United Nations Youth Assembly, and her speech is damned humbling. Inspiring, too, but mostly humbling.

I heard a piece on NPR about the speech and then I went onto Youtube and listened to the whole thing. And after I dried my tears, I asked myself: where do kids get that kind of inner power? Where do they get the courage to believe in progress, to act for change, to insist upon hope? Even, God help us, after being shot in the head?

I write and I teach and I’m a parent. It’s so easy to reduce my job to 500 words a day and the struggle snag an agent. To making sure students master the preterite and know how to order an enchilada. To getting my son to bed on time and making sure he has a decent breakfast. But I listen to Malala and I realize that working with kids, writing for kids, parenting a kid, gives me an opportunity to foster a miracle. Not to create one. Fundamentally, Malala is who she is because of her own choices. Nobody made her that smart, or that brave, or that tough.

But people helped her along. “One child,” she says, “one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” If the Secretary of Education said that, it would be boilerplate. When Malala says it, it’s a call to arms.

Not the bang-bang kind of arms. The kind of arms that hug, and hold, and help children rise so that they can see the great big goodbad world out there, and believe they can change it.

Happy Birthday, Malala. And thank you.


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