Malala Yousafzai speaks at UB Distinguished Speaker Series

UB’s tenth visiting Nobel Prize laureate shares her mission


Malala Yousafzai called out the Taliban, climate change deniers and world leaders who need to do more for girl’s education.

Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate and leading human rights activist, brought the audience to its feet with roaring applause before she even took the stage at Tuesday night’s sold-out lecture in a sweltering hot Alumni Arena.

Yousafzai’s lecture lasted roughly 10 minutes after being introduced by President Satish Tripathi. Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, moderated a 45-minute Q&A session.

Audience members threw hefty topics Yousafzai’s way, including questions about her future plans at Oxford University and beyond, her opinion on the separation of church and state and the way forward for young women leaders, struggling for representation even in countries like the U.S.

Yousafzai navigated these questions with the deftness of an experienced global leader and the easygoing playfulness of a 20-year-old.

“The Taliban wanted to silence me but they made a huge mistake, because here I am today speaking globally about female education,” Yousafzai said.

She joked about her father’s impressive Twitter game, and asked an audience member for college advice.

Audience members asked her how to fight bigotry and hatred. For Yousafzai, education is almost always the answer, especially in fighting Islamophobia and radicalization and extremism in vulnerable communities.

She also shared stories of many other girls, namely the 130 million girls around the world who do not have access to education. This is Yousafzai’s mission, propelled to action after she was shot by the Taliban in 2012 for refusing to end her own education.

She spoke about one girl who ran away in her wedding dress to avoid her own arranged marriage. She told the story of meeting girls kidnapped by a terrorist group, Boko Haram.

“They’re resilient, they’re brave, they’re strong, you have to admire them,” Yousafzai said. “I went there to inspire them and they ended up inspiring me.”

It was certainly a night in honor of the girls – the stadium itself was packed with what appeared to be 90 percent women, of all ages and races. Yousafzai spoke about the challenges women face all over the world, including countries like the U.K., which has fewer women in parliament than her native country, Pakistan.

“I think that here and in all parts of the world, there is this big challenge of getting women to stand up for themselves. Because there are barriers in society; we have to tackle the issue of men and we have to sort that out,” Yousafzai said, met with the audience’s laughter. “Women need to first be brave and believe in themselves and go forward because often you are the first person who stops yourself, so don’t stop yourself, don’t be a barrier to yourself.”

Yousafzai was a hit among most students who attended Tuesday’s event.

“She was very natural, and you could easily connect to her through the way she was telling her stories,” said Prachi Patil, a computer science graduate student. “She was talking openly as if she was talking to a friend. Although she is a Nobel-Prize winner, she’s one of us.”

Madison Featherstone, a senior applied linguistics and African-American studies major, attended the event with friends. They agreed it would have been nice to hear Yousafzai talk more about her personal experiences such as what it was like when the Taliban were in control and how she was affected by that.

“Girls’ education isn’t limited to simply the education of girls. It will have a huge global effect and make so many other things happen for us women like decreasing poverty, childhood-marriage and early pregnancies,” Featherstone said.

Tuesday’s event was sponsored by the Girls Education Collaborative, a Buffalo-based nonprofit that works to support girls in developing countries, and the UB School of Management Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness.

The next speaker in this year’s 31st annual Distinguished Speaker Series will be Theresa Payton, former White House CIO and Cyber Security CEO, who will deliver her lecture Oct. 18 in Alumni Arena.

*Anna Savchenko contributed reporting to this story.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at