By Kathy Matheson
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PHILADELPHIA _ A Pakistani teenager awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote girls’ education brought her passion for learning to Philadelphia, where she received the Liberty Medal on Tuesday.
In accepting the honour, Malala Yousafzai implored world leaders to spend money on supporting learning, not wars, and to solve their differences with words.
“Education is the best weapon against poverty, ignorance and terrorism,” she said.
Yousafzai, 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 honour her. But the coincidence might have been expected: She has become the seventh medal recipient to subsequently receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
The medal is given annually at the National Constitution Center to someone who strives to secure freedom for people around the world.
Tuesday’s ceremony included speeches from women with powerful stories about education, including Minnijean Brown Trickey, who helped integrate a high school in the southern U.S. state of Arkansas in 1957, and University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann, a first-generation college student who rose to lead an elite Ivy League school.
Gutmann, also a board member of the Constitution Center, praised Yousafzai for her “compelling vision and immense courage.”
“An educated mind is the most powerful force for good on our planet,” Gutmann said.
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 now lives with her family. She attends a high school for girls but continues activism on those issues through speaking engagements, a bestselling book and a non-profit organization called the Malala Fund.
Yousafzai said Tuesday that when the Taliban went to Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where she lived with her family, 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 “made a big mistake” trying to silence her. The day she was shot, she said, “Weakness, fear and hopelessness died, and strength, power and courage were born.”
Her appearance in Philadelphia 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.
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 U.S. Constitution and the ideas and values it represents.