Malala Yousafzai picks Bethesda teen’s essay as contest winner

Malala's new book Malala’s new book

Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai selected an essay written by a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School senior named Julia Fine, 17, as the winner of a CNN contest for teens to write about being inspired by the young Pakistani.

Malala, an advocate for education for girls, was shot by a Taliban gunman on Oct. 9, 2012, as she was returning home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where she lived. She had blogged anonymously against a Taliban ban on girls attending school but later become known for her advocacy. Malala survived the shooting and had intensive rehabilitation in England before continuing to champion the cause of education for girls.

Malala selected Julia Fine’s from hundreds of essays in the contest, which asked teens to answer this question: “What specifically has Malala done to inspire you?” Julia traveled to New York City on Thursday to meet Malala and to attend an interview with Malala and CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour that will be broadcast on Sunday night as part of a show called “The Bravest Girl in the World.”

Julia attends BCC, where she is a senior and co-editor of her school’s student newspaper. She is co-president of the School Girls Unite club at her school and youth outreach coordinator for Day of the Girl, which is a United Nations-recognized effort on Oct. 11 of every year by numerous groups around the world to highlight, discuss and advance the lives of girls.

Here’s her winning essay about being inspired by Malala Yousafzai:

By Julia Fine


As a teenager, it’s easy to feel lost, to get swallowed up into the mob mentality and lose your voice. We’ve all been victim to that; anyone who says they haven’t is either lying or under the age of 13 years. And so when a teenage girl undertakes such an incredible task of courage, one adults cower in fear of doing, the event takes on utmost significance. This is exactly what Malala Yousafzai, a huge inspiration to me and so many other girls, did.


Malala stood up for herself, for her education and for her fundamental rights when confronted by a fearsome terrorist group. Malala has created a chain reaction all around the world, bringing change, light and hope to girls across all continents.


Being teenage girls in the United States, so many times, we forget the opportunities we have been given. We roll our eyes and joke about dropping out of school, a right we take for granted in this country. I don’t know if I speak for all girls when I say this, but I know for me that after hearing about Malala’s fight for education, I cannot take mine so lightly any longer.


I plan to continue my education so that I can fight for those who cannot. Malala has inspired me to study politics, gender studies, social justice and peace so that I am equipped with the tools I need to help others, the tools so many girls are not given.


But Malala has inspired more than just my own education; she has inspired my entire outlook and goals.


After I first learned of Malala, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Yes, I was more serious about my education and understood its importance now, but I wanted to become an activist and do something. I became co-president of my school’s club School Girls Unite, a group that sponsors the education of 66 girls in Mali and lobbies Congress annually to increase foreign aid for education. I also became involved with the International Day of the Girl Child as the Day of the Girl U.S. youth outreach coordinator so I could speak to more girls about issues like education.


I have heard some people say that Malala is a mere poster child for Western ideals of education, but that could not be further from the truth; Malala is the hero who created the domino effect of change, bringing attention and empowering girls and boys alike to act on this issue.


It may sound corny, but I assure you that it is true: I believe that Malala has changed the course of my life, and I only hope that through activism around the world, other girls will have their lives changed as well.


Thank you, Malala. Thank you for your bravery, your passion and your heroism. You inspire me and so many other girls so much, and what you do is incredible. You go, girl!




Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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