Shahid an exemplary choice for convocation address

For the first time in my four years at MSU, I’m genuinely and completely excited for this year’s Freshman Convocation.

The annual event, as many know, is MSU’s way of welcoming the incoming freshman class to the community. Now in its eighth year, the evening is filled with pomp and circumstance, welcoming words by administrators, and most notably a prestigious keynote speaker meant to inspire and excite the incoming class. Past year speakers have included notable names such as author of “Life of Pi” Yann Martel, former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and adventurer Aron Ralston.

However, when MSU announced the name of the 2014 Freshman Convocation speaker — Shiza Shahid — it’s probable that very few  people immediately recognized the name. This aside, she is probably the best choice for convocation speaker in the event’s history.

The 25-year-old Pakistan native has been recognized by both Forbes and TIME magazines on their “30 Under 30” lists and has already been called one of the greatest leaders of our generation. She is the cofounder and CEO of the Malala Fund, established with Malala Yousafzai, whose book, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” will be read by incoming students.

Yousafzai, 16, famously survived an attempted assassination in 2012 by the Pakistani Taliban for her public advocacy for girls education in the region. Since then she and Shahid established the Malala fund and have served as advocates for the continuing education of women and girls.

When Rice and Martel delivered convocation addresses at MSU, they stood as examples for using education to reach extreme world-wide success. Beyond doing this, Shahid exemplifies  the importance of education itself. She brings a message of activism, hope, infectious courage and the potential of youth to an audience of her generation.

Though the audience may not have found a common connection in the words of Rice or Martel, they will certainly find one in Shahid. A university is, at its roots, a celebration of education. It’s an opportunity for like-minded people to come together to collaborate, discuss and learn in order to better prepare for the future. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday hectic life on campus it’s easy to lose sight of the novelty of learning, and the brilliance of such an institution.

The fundamental right of education is so much a staple in our society that it is largely taken for granted. It is hard for us to imagine a situation where people have to fight for the right to attend school, especially where potential students are denied based on gender. That a 14-year-old girl would be the target of an attempted assassination simply for her desire of an education and her public advocation of it is thankfully equally alien to us.

Yet at a time when US news headlines often allude to the growing devaluation of a bachelor’s degree paired with the tremendous debt college students find greet them at graduation, the fundamental  importance of education is a message worth hearing again and again.

Convocation is a celebration of the new students’ choice to continue their education at MSU. This year let it also be a commitment to take advantage of the opportunity that education provides, as well as a promise not to lose sight of those who fight to have the same opportunity.

As always, I can be reached for questions or feedback at editor@exponent.montana.edu

Freshman Convocation will take place the evening before fall semester classes start on August 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.