The most famous teenager in the world celebrated her eighteenth birthday yesterday, but instead of candles and cake, Malala Yousafzai chose to mark the occasion by opening a school for child refugees of the Syrian civil war in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
This symbolic date has many wondering how life will change for the child activist now that she’s officially entered adulthood. Well, in her own words, coming of age will likely only carry her message of worldwide education even further. “My voice does not depend on my age, it depends on the work that I do and the campaign that I do,” she told the BBC from the school in Lebanon. “So being here with the children in Lebanon, with the refugees, it makes my voice more powerful.”
Unlike most eighteen-year-olds, Yousafzai still has two more years of schooling to complete before heading to college. But then again, Yousafzai has always stood out from her contemporaries. Her activism began at age eleven, when she wrote a blog for the BBC on the tribulations of being a young girl wanting an education in northern Pakistan. After being almost fatally shot by the Taliban while on her way home from school in 2012, Yousafzai was catapulted to global fame and became a leading advocate for human rights and girls’ education around the world. In 2013, her sixteenth birthday was spent giving a rousing speech at the United Nations—her first public speech since the attack—and from then, July 12 was officially declared Malala Day. A few months later, her memoir, I Am Malala, would go on to become an international best seller. In 2014, at the age of seventeen, she would become the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Having achieved so much at such a young age might have anyone else resting on their laurels, but of course, this birthday marks only the beginning of a new phase in Yousafzai’s life. She already has her eye on Oxford University for her continued education, and she has no plans of stopping her activism, either. At a speech at the Oslo Summit on Education for Development a few days before her eighteenth birthday, Malala spoke about what it means for her to become an adult. “There is something that I have learnt from being a child that I will not leave behind and I will take on into this new life of adulthood. And that is to dream: In fact, to dream big, to aim higher, without limit.”
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