Malala Yousafzai told Yalies about her college experience, activist burnout and how she maintains everyday joy at a Silliman College tea on Tuesday.
Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, virtually joined the event, which Laurie Santos, Silliman Head of College and psychology professor, hosted in person for students. She detailed the importance of individuals speaking out, as seemingly small actions can cause a ripple effect, as well as the difficult balance between activism and resulting burnout.
“We all burn out,” Yousafzai said at the event, discussing the exhaustion that can arise from holding global crises so close to her heart. “When you put so much energy into one cause and one mission, like my advocacy for education financing, it is natural.”
Event attendees included Yale students, faculty and potential incoming members of the class of 2026 through the Bulldog Days program, as well as students around the world. According to Santos, several hundred students attended — including one fifth-grade classroom.
A prominent education advocate, Yousafzai has spent her life speaking out publicly against the Taliban’s terrorist regime. In 2012, at 15 years old, she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban — and she has since continued working to promote educational access for women and girls.
Yousafzai discussed that the hardest part of constantly advocating for change is the frequent empty promises she faces from policymakers.
Oftentimes, she described, politicians leave her with nothing but “nice words” and make no effort to achieve the goal of her advocacy: a fiscal commitment to gender equality in financing women’s education.
“There is burnout in the sense that I feel like I could have done more, that I was being too optimistic. But then I remember the progress that has been made,” Yousafzai said at the event. “What gives me hope is the voices of young girls across the world that are speaking out. The pity is always there when you take a break. In those times you have to remind yourself that you are the most productive when you are not exhausted.”
She continued to say that everyone needs to recharge to “boost” their productivity, and that she spends time with friends and partners to “refuel” herself.
In an email to the News, Santos said that she and Yousafzai are both writers for the Bulletin, a new Meta platform, and she was able to connect with Yousafzai for this purpose by drawing on that connection.
“Just being able to connect with someone who’s doing such important work was amazing, but I was thrilled to be able to share that connection with the Silliman Community,” Santos wrote to the News.
Residential college teas offer an opportunity for Yale affiliates to engage with various visitors renowned in their fields, be it politics, arts, activism or research. According to an event description on Yale’s Bulldog Days website, this event also offered accepted students who are considering matriculating to Yale a chance to experience a sample college tea.
Yousafzai graduated from Oxford University in 2020 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.