Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

Candles light up a portrait of Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl shot Oct. 9 by the Taliban, during an Oct. 15 vigil organized by Nepalese youths in Katmandu. She remains in a British hospital where she is recovering from her wounds.

Op Images: Malala's courage lights up the cause of education in 2012

Published: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 14A

My own daughter, at 17, does not always want to go to school. When the Sacramento Valley is dark and dripping with early morning tule fog, the road to higher education is literally and figuratively obscure to a high school senior clinging to a warm bed.

And yet, this Reuters photograph is a reminder to all girls of a sister half a world away – a world where, earlier this year, a young woman was nearly murdered for daring to demand an education.

On Oct. 9, 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai and two classmates were shot by gunmen who boarded their bus looking to silence this young advocate of female education. Now recovering in a British hospital, Malala has been nominated for both the International Children's Peace Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize. In her name, Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who is the United Nations special envoy for global education, has launched an international campaign to enroll all the world's children in school by the end of 2015.

These are big honors for a girl who, for all her mettle, is still a child.

Yet, Malala Yousufzai understood the risk she was taking by pursuing her education. Her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, is an activist who ran a school for girls in defiance of the Taliban, who have banned education for girls in the Swat district of Pakistan where the Yousufzai family lives. For Malala, sneaking to school had long ago become a way of life.

Malala started publicly talking about her right to schooling when she was just 11. In 2009, she began blogging for the BBC, writing under an assumed name about life under the Taliban. That same year, New York Times reporter Adam Ellick spent 48 hours with Malala on the eve of the Taliban's closing of her father's school for girls. That experience, filmed and available for viewing online, shows Malala bravely leading her classmates in school cheers, planning a future as a doctor or a politician, promising that the Taliban "cannot stop me. I will get my education."

At other times, she dissolves into frightened tears as her father tries to calm her, both of them worn down by the very real threat of Taliban leaders – who this year called Malala's pursuit of education "an obscenity" and her near- assassination "a lesson."

That lesson has been a real education for the rest of the world – all of us who struggle to fathom men who would kill their daughters rather than allow them to go to school, those of us who are incredulous that daughters and sisters would risk their lives for the chance to read a book.

Perhaps that's what Malala really has to teach us: Getting to class is worth the effort, worth even an assassin's bullet.

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Read more articles by Jill Duman

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