By Gregg Sangillo
American University has hosted many dignitaries and world leaders over the years. Yet few AU speakers have had such a meteoric rise, at such a young age, as Malala Yousafzai. She just turned 20 years old this summer, and she's already an international icon. AU is now recognizing Yousafzai as the 2017 Wonk of the Year, and she'll accept the award in Bender Arena on September 25 at 8:15 p.m.
Though previously an advocate for girls' education in the Muslim world, her activism became global after a brush with death on a school bus when she was shot by Taliban fighters. Since that time, she's gained worldwide renown as a champion of human rights and gender equity.
The youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Yousafzai chronicles her story in the best-selling book I Am Malala: "You could say I grew up in a school. The school was my world, and my world was the school." Yousafzai's father founded her school in Pakistan, and the Taliban guns would only strengthen her devotion to education.
Malala is internationally known for her courage and advancing the right of everyone to receive an education," says AUSG Kennedy Political Union director Shyheim Snead. "She is one of the most inspirational and influential leaders of our generation and embodies the integrity and values that the AU community aims to achieve.
Snead also believes that AU students will embrace her message.
Malala's background is one steeped in standing up for what is right in the face of great adversity, an experience that many of our students can relate to. I believe that she can offer guidance and encouragement to a group of young, enterprising students aiming to find their place in various movements for change.
The Wonk of the Year honors individuals who demonstrate engagement, focus, intelligence, and passion.
Yousafzai is the fifth recipient of the WOTY award, following former President Bill Clinton, journalist Anderson Cooper, former first lady Laura Bush, and political strategist Donna Brazile. The student-run lecture series AUSG Kennedy Political Union, the university, the AUSG Women's Initiative and the Muslim Student Association are co-hosting the event.
This will also be the first WOTY event with new AU President Sylvia Burwell. After Yousafzai's opening remarks, President Burwell will moderate a question-and-answer session.
It is truly an honor to host Malala Yousafzai on our campus. She's an incredibly brave individual with a demonstrated commitment to meaningful change. Her dedication to education and the potential of girls is inspirational," says Burwell. "The AU community is excited to celebrate her courageous and remarkable story.