Education activist, young Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and now an Oxford graduate, Malala Yousaafzai, is not only a vital voice for a new generation that seems to have inherited a broken world but is also a leader who aspires to change it.
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Yousafzai explains that her virtual graduation was "not the ending she had imagined," and like other 2020 graduates, she didn't get a chance to savour her final months at university, where she was studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics).
She recalls, "In March, I packed up a few things from my room at Oxford University—books, shoes, clothes—enough for the three-week Easter break. Months later, I am still at home with my parents." When she returned to collect her things from her room, the bushes and lawn were overgrown, the food-delivery drivers had vanished and the entire campus was quiet.
According to Yousafzai, education is so much more than a reading list or a syllabus and for many, college is the first real experience with independence.
She continues, "We set our own schedules—even small decisions like what to eat or how to spend a Sunday are thrilling. In my early days at Oxford, a senior student told me that university life is sleeping, studying, and socializing—and you can only pick two. I found it hard to do even two, so study and sleep were mostly sacrificed."
What Yousafzai misses most from her co-curricular college life include watching cricket matches and college balls, being part of the Pakistan Society, Oxford Union, and more importantly visiting the pub with her friends— she doesn't drink but enjoyed being the only sober one in a group of students arguing over Brexit.
Although, she says she still hasn't mastered the art of doing laundry.
But more importantly, Yousafzai is looking to the future, though she's cognizant of the new reality all of us, especially young people, find themselves in —a global pandemic, an economic recession, racism, inequality, and a most uncertain future.
She understands that a lot of work will fall on the shoulders of young people. "We watched while those in power failed to protect refugees and religious minorities, stop attacks on schools, ensure justice for Black and brown people, or even acknowledge that climate change exists. We have grown up knowing that the world we inherit will be broken."
Yousafzai feels in many ways, young people are more prepared for the current crisis because they've had a lot of practice fighting for change.
"I could fill every page of this magazine with the names and stories of young people, especially girls, who have sparked movements, used technology to solve a problem in their communities, created art to show the world from their perspective, and so much more. A willingness to work hard for change and the courage to believe we can achieve our goals are defining qualities of my generation."
To all the children, she says, “You don’t have to wait to be an adult to be a leader. Young people are leading, but our world has too many problems for one generation to solve."
Her advice to elders? "It’s not too late for you to change."