'You can make the world a better place,' Malala Yousafzai tells crowd in 1st Montreal appearance

A small group of Laval teens sat among the entrepreneurs and influencers at the talk, eyes glowing and smartphones drawn to take pictures.

Essay contest winners from North Star Academy react to Yousafzai's talk, calling her an inspiration

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafza greets young guest at the Influence MTL conference on Wednesday in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The name Malala has resonated around the world since the 15-year-old Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman six years ago.

Yousafzai survived and started a movement for the right to education. Two years later, in 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She is now the youngest to have ever won the prize.

Last night, Yousafzai made her first appearance in Montreal, speaking to a crowd of mostly entrepreneurs and influencers.

But a small group of Laval teens sat among them, eyes glowing and smartphones drawn to take pictures.

A donor had given six tickets for the Influence MTL conference Yousafzai spoke at to North Star Academy in Laval. The school hosted an essay competition to distribute the tickets. It asked students to write about the young Nobel laureate.

Those who were invited to attend even got the chance to meet Yousafzai at the conference.

Students inspired by Yousafzai

Marylynn Sorella was one of them. She spoke of the impact Yousafzai has had on her.

"I used to be this quiet girl that used to not get involved in anything. But since I've read her book, it's inspired me to like help people more," Sorella told CBC News.

Marylynn Sorella, 13, discovered that Malala Yousafzai is not nearly as shy as she thought. (CBC)

"Like, if somebody is being bullied, I try to help more, instead of just staying on the side and walking away."

Yousafzai told the crowd about her belief in standing up for what's right. When she was shot in Pakistan, it was in retaliation for raising her voice against bans on girls attending school in her town.

"I stayed positive. I stayed ambitious. And I knew that if I continued to speak out, I would see change one day," she said.

Yousafzai is seen around the world as a testament to the human resilience that can emerge amid adversity.

Her autobiography, I Am Malala, has sold more than two million copies. And she is currently studying for a bachelor's degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University.

"You do not need to be 45, 60 or 70 to bring change; you do not need to have some kind of qualifications to bring change. You can bring change at any age at any stage you are. You can make the world a better place."

'She made us laugh'

The 13-year-old Marylynn said she'd thought of Yousafzai as reserved, but that the 21-year-old turned out to be warm and outgoing.

"She made us laugh a couple times, which was really nice," she said.

Fellow student Sarvesh Hanamasagar, 12, said his dream had been to see Yousafzai speak.

Sarvesh Hanamasagar says he was inspired by Malala Yousafzai's speech. (CBC)

"Now, it's fulfilled," he said, adding the event taught him even more about her than he'd read in her book.

Alessia Di Menna, 14, said Yousafzai had helped her realize how important it is to not take access to education for granted.

Alessia Di Menna, 14, said she appreciated hearing directly from Malala Yousafzai herself. (CBC)

"I won't say, 'Oh, I don't want to go to school,' [anymore]. I'm going to school because I have the privilege," Alessia said.

"Some people don't have that privilege."

With files from Navneet Pall


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