That summer I returned back to Pakistan with a plan. I would host a summer camp, and I would bring to that summer camp girls like Malala. I would give them access to the world that I knew. To the networks, the resources, the people, the mentors that could help them be more effective activists. And that’s what I did. It was one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. And the girl who I arranged all of this for was no other than 11-year-old Malala.
What this taught me was that anything I wanted to change, I had the power to affect. Sitting in my dorm room at Stanford, sipping my Jamba Juice, I had found a way to affect the life of a girl in the Swat Valley. This girl would go on to become the most powerful voice for peace in the entire world only 5 years later.
The truth is, there are no superheroes. There’s just us! We are the ones that we have been waiting for. So the third and final lesson that I’d love to share with you, is that there are critical moments in your life where you have to make a decision about who you are, and in those moments let your heart guide you.
It was 2012, I had graduated from Stanford, I had an offer to join McKinsey & Company, which was a dream job for any Stanford graduate. So I took the job and I flew to Dubai. It was an exciting year, I learned exponentially, and I knew that as long as I stayed on track my career was secure.
One year in, I had just landed in Egypt. I turned on my phone and I saw a text that would move the Earth. It said, “Malala has been shot.” I remember sitting in that plane and repeating in my head, “Oh my god, what have they done! What have they done!” They had stopped her on her way back from school and shot her in the head at point-blank range. She was critically wounded. Everyday we prayed that she would make it through the night.
But it wasn’t just me and others who cared about Malala who were grieving. Across the world, people had been shaken by her story. There were vigils, protests in all parts of the world. And when people weren’t praying or hoping, they were angry. They were angry that in the 21st century, a girl could be shot in the head for going to school. I knew then that what Malala had inspired was the beginning of a movement that would change the face of our world.
I left my career and flew to Birmingham to be with Malala when she was airlifted there for treatment. I arrived the same day as her family. She survived, and that to me is the greatest miracle that I have ever witnessed or will ever witness. It is what I remain grateful for everyday: that Malala survived with no brain damage.
But as I sat with her and told her, “Malala, so many people are praying for you and they want to help you. What do I tell them?”
She looked at me and said, “I’m okay. Can you ask them to help the other girls?”
That’s when I knew that not only had Malala inspired a movement, but she was going to continue her struggle no matter what it took against all odds. But now she had a greater platform than ever before. She was no longer fighting a battle in the Swat Valley, she was fighting a battle for girls all over the world. And she needed people she could trust to help her.
I had a decision to make then. Would I go back to my job? Or would I stay with Malala and try and figure out what this meant? Try and help her change the world and get girls in school. I wasn’t ready, I was terrified, but it was now or never and I took the leap. And honestly speaking, I’ve never looked back.
You see there are moments when we make decisions that shape our destiny. And in those moments we have to listen to our intuition. Our heart already knows where we are meant to go, it will never lead us astray.
I’d like to end my talk with this statement that has come to embody this movement that Malala has inspired. And I end with it because it holds one — well, it holds all of these truths for me. It’s a statement that people across the world have said without us asking. And it is, “I am Malala.”
So I end with that saying, I’m Malala, not because I am her, but because I understand what it means to be a girl who struggles, due to that human connection, and because I too struggle. I am Malala, because I take control of my destiny and I decide to change what I believe must be changed. And I’m Malala, because I make that decision today, and everyday, from the core of my heart.