Last week was amazing.
First, the US Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling confirmed that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Then, on a 5-4 vote, the court affirmed the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The White House celebrated the ruling by bathing the building in rainbow colors.
There was also President Barack Obama’s poignant eulogy for the life of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and eight more people murdered in an historic black church in South Carolina. The President ended his eulogy by singing “Amazing Grace,” as those who gathered stood in unison and joined him in song. I listened on the radio in my car as tears streamed down my face. The progressive victories and eloquent eulogy were all sweet music to my ears. Yet, something right here in San Jose became the icing on the cake.
The youngest person ever to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai, was in town for a Unique Lives and Experiences marquee presentation at San Jose State University. Thanks to my wife, the associate producer of Unique Lives San Jose, I was able to sit a chair away from Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai.
When Malala was introduced by local author Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, she received an uproarious ovation. The young adolescent girls seated all around me looked up to Malala with endearing eyes. Many clutched her memoir, I am Malala.
Malala is a world ambassador fighting for the right of every girl and woman to receive a free education; to be unshackled from gender discrimination. She also talked about creating a world that can harness peace for all humankind.
Her Swat Valley roots in Pakistan led to global notoriety when she was shot at point-blank range in the face by a 15-year old boy representing the Taliban. She was shot for advocating that girls should be allowed to attend schools similar to the ones her father built. She described the Swat region as incredibly beautiful, with lush mountains and the Swat River winding its way through the valley. With verdant meadows and crystal clear lakes, during a visit Queen Elizabeth II called it “the Switzerland of the East.”
As a former teacher and principal, I always lamented the fact that my students did not have the same global role models that I did when growing up. Alan Sheppard, John Glenn, Mohammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, John Kennedy—all of these people helped shape me as a person.
What these aforementioned leaders have in common with Malala is their commitment to others, while showing courage and strength in the face of adversity. Malala believes we all have a duty to speak up and right wrongs of injustice and oppression.
“If you want to change society, if you want to see change, you must step forward to bring change,” she said.
Malala noted that we must speak from the heart and choose tolerance over intolerance. I hope this lesson resonates in San Jose. For the girls who had an opportunity to see and listen to one of their amazing heroes, I hope they also choose to lead San Jose, our nation and the world to a better place.