MALALA Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived an assassination attempt by the Taleban, was greeted like a rock star when she arrived in Scotland on Saturday to accept an honorary degree.
Malala, 16, received a standing ovation from the 1,000-strong audience when she received a Master of Arts degree from Edinburgh University in recognition of her role in promoting educational opportunities for girls and women around the world.
She was joined at the sold-out ceremony in McEwan Hall by two friends from Pakistan, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, who were also injured in the attack by masked gunmen last October that left Malala fighting for her life.
All three teenagers now live and study in the UK, but Saturday was the first time they had met since the incident that has catapulted Malala from a bedroom blogger to a global superstar who has met the Queen and President Barack Obama in the past month.
After the degree ceremony Malala, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month, addressed the first public meeting of the Global Citizenship Commission, a body set up by former prime minister Gordon Brown in conjunction with New York University and the Carnegie UK Trust to promote human rights.
She told the audience her ambition was to be a politician. “Rather than standing outside the parliament demanding rights, I want to be inside and make it happen,” she said.
Malala, who met her two friends privately before they appeared on stage, went on: “After I was shot the terrorists thought that I would not continue the struggle for education, but not only did I not stop my campaign but now Kainat and Shazia are with me and they are also supporting me. They are not afraid, we are not afraid and now people are supporting us and that is the greatest courage, and that is the weapon that we have got, the unity and togetherness.
“For achieving any goal, people must be united, they must work together and that is why I feel empowered.”
After the attack Malala was treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and has now settled in the city with her family.
Her confidence had the audience in Edinburgh on their feet as she said: “My studies are going well, I’m in year ten and have GCSEs coming up and hope I will get straight As.
“I also want to go to a university, maybe this one.”
Jodie Farrance, 15, a pupil at Beath High School in Cowdenbeath, who was among a group of pupils attending the event, said afterwards that Malala was someone that young women of her age admired.
“She’s quite an inspiration. She’s gone through so much and been shot in the head for what she believed in. My friends and me can relate to her and she’s doing so much still being at school and doing all this campaigning. It really makes you think about what we’ve got here and just take for granted,” she said.
Brown, who joined Malala on stage along with her father and Fiona Reynolds, the Scottish doctor who treated the teenager in the critical aftermath of the shooting, said: “She is seen as a symbol around the world for courage and bravery and resilience, of someone prepared to make a huge sacrifice for a cause.
“She has proved to us that neither threats, intimidation nor violence will ever silence her voice to speak up for what she believes, and what I believe, is one of the great civil rights struggles of our time.
“I’m so pleased to see her reunited with Shazia and Kainat, two young women equally determined that every girl and boy should enjoy the most basic of human rights: a secure, safe place at school.”
After the event in Edinburgh, Malala and her entourage travelled to Burntisland in Fife, in Brown’s constituency, to take part in a “topping out” ceremony for a primary school due to open next year.
More than 300 people crowded into the draughty building, still under construction, to see Malala.
Among the group was Asma Mohammed, 14, from Balwearie High School in Kirkcaldy, whose grandmother is from Pakistan. She said she felt “very proud” of what Malala had achieved.
“People I know are more into education now since Malala. It’s opened their eyes,” she said.
Malala, who wrote her name in a block of cement which will be incorporated into the new building and unveiled a plaque for the school library to be named after her, said: “This might look like an ordinary building but we must remember this is not only a building, it is also our future.”
School children Joana Barron, her brother James and Connor Latimer then presented Malala and her friends with gifts including Scottish tablet and a tartan shawl made of the UN tartan, before the visitors were driven away in a chauffeur-driven people carrier.