NEW YORK: Close at the heels of her Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girls' education activist, was in Tuesday honoured with the Liberty Medal, a prestigious American award.
"I ask all countries all around the world: Let us say no to wars. Let us say no to conflicts." Malala said in accepting the honour at an impressive ceremony in the National Convention Centre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to media reports.
The Liberty Medal, established in 1988, commemorates the bicentennial of the US Constitution. Given annually, it honours "men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe." Recipients are chosen by a committee of the National Constitution Center board. Among past winners are human rights crusaders and world leaders.
Malala said she would donate her $100,000 prize to improve education and support for Pakistani children.
"Education is the best weapon against poverty, ignorance and terrorism," she said.
Draped in a traditional Pakistani shawl, Malala took the stage to wild applause. She smiled appreciatively on a stage that included Pennsylvania's first lady, Susan Corbett; Philadelphia Mayor Nutter; University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann; and Constitution Center CEO Jeffrey Rosen.
"Malala's courageous fight for equality and liberty from tyranny is evidence that a passionate, committed leader, regardless of age, has the power to ignite a movement for reform," said Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and chairman of the National Constitution Center, which sponsors the medal. Jeb Bush is the son of former President George H.W. Bush and a brother of George W Bush, also a former president.
Malala, 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.
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 President Jimmy Carter.
Tuesday's ceremony included speeches from women with powerful stories about education, including Minnijean Brown Trickey, who helped integrate an Arkansas high school in 1957, and University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann, a first-generation college student who rose to lead an Ivy League school.
Malala said Tuesday that when the Taliban went to the 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."
The bullets that shattered her skull seem only to have intensified her resolve, and will echo in the words of the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, which performed Sara Bareilles' hit song, "Brave."
"Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out," the Pennsylvania girls sang. "Show me how big your brave is!"