Gaping at the line of about 50 people in front of us stretching across the front gate of the United Nations Building, my mom and I were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get in. We had been there since 7:30 in the morning, and even though the gates were said to be opened at 8:00, the never ending line was not moving. About a dozen NYPD cars were parked nearby, and even more news vans with satellite dishes were lined up next to them. Why so much press and security on a day when the United Nations wasn’t even in session? The answer is simple: one Pakistani teenager. But this was no normal Pakistani teenager. This one happened to be Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old girl who was shot by the Taliban for trying to promote women’s education. She suffered a gunshot in the left side of her forehead but because of the expertise of British and Pakistani doctors she survived, and today was the first time she was going to publicly address the event. However, her live audience, apart from the millions of people watching on the news or listening on the radio, was going to be composed of youth from around the globe. Youth delegates from the age of 15 to 25 had flocked to New York City for the first “youth takeover” of the United Nations in history. So yes, the long wait was definitely worth it.
Once we finally made it past the security at the front gate, acquired special badges for the event, and went through a security screening we finally entered the complex. Unfortunately, the General Assembly Hall was undergoing renovations and was closed, so the event was instead being held in the UN Trusteeship Council Hall. My mom wasn’t allowed to sit with me because she technically wasn’t a “youth” delegate, so she went up into the wings with the other media workers. I was able to find a seat on the floor of the hall, about five or six rows from the podium and panel of seats with electronic nameplates for Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of England, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Vuk Jeremic, the president of the General Assembly, and most importantly, Malala. Soon, the voices of teenagers from all corners of the globe began to fill the hall, the buzz of excitement and anticipation echoing off of the high, arching walls.
However, it only took Gordon Brown finally standing up and walking to the podium to silence the seemingly untamable din. A hush fell over the hundreds of students sitting in the room, and he began to speak, introducing the start of the program and telling Malala’s story. And most importantly, he wished her happy birthday. It was because of this the event was held on that specific day. There were a few more speeches by the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, and then finally, Malala stood. The entire room erupted into applause before she even reached the podium. By the time she did reach it, every person was on their feet. She had to wait a few minutes to even start speaking because of how enthusiastic the crowd of delegates was. But it was when she finally started speaking that the room got quieter than before. I could tell that every student, including myself, was sitting on the edge of their seat, hanging onto her every word.
Her speech was phenomenal. Her words were inspiring and she delivered them with the power and conviction of someone that is willing to sacrifice anything for what they believe, which she already had. She had known the dangers of speaking out against the Taliban, of openly protesting the lack of a right for women to go to school, yet she still went to school, still blogged and protested in the streets, and it had almost cost her own life. Yet it didn’t.
“On the night of October 2012 the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought the bullet would silence us, but they failed.” The Taliban indeed failed, for she was speaking that day, stronger and more passionate than ever. Her speech was directed at us, the young leaders of the world, but also the current leaders of the world at the United Nations. It is her goal to raise enough money to put all the children who aren’t granted an education in school by 2015, and efforts are currently underway to make this dream a reality.
Hearing her speak was honestly one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. This girl, who has been through so much, is only a few months older than I am, and she really inspired me to try to make a difference in the world myself, proving that teenagers are definitely capable of achieving anything that they set their minds to.