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Students study in a class in Afghanistan.
Jawad Jalali/GPE

'Afghanistan's Malala' Graduates College With Top Honors

By Joanna Prisco

Photos of college graduates in caps and gowns have been ubiquitous across the internet this month. But images of one particular Afghan student have gone viral, becoming a new symbol of hope and perseverance.

Before receiving her bachelor’s degree from the American University of Afghanistan on May 11, Breshna Musazai had already survived polio and two gunshot wounds inflicted by Taliban insurgents.

Take Action: Tell Your Representative to Support Education For Every Child

“When I looked at the audience, everybody stood for me,” Musazai, 28, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It was a very proud moment.”

As photos of Musazai from her commencement spread online, many have compared her to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who was shot by Taliban raiders in 2012 and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Raised in Pakistan, where she graduated from high school, Musazai’s family moved back to Afghanistan in 2011. It was then that she began studying law at American University. While girls face many obstacles to education in Afghanistan, her family has always been supportive of her pursuits, Musazai told the Post.

Read More: His School Was Burned Down. Now He’s Bringing Education to Thousands of Girls in Afghanistan.

To wit, as many as 3.7 million children between the ages of 7 and 17 are not attending class in Afghanistan, according to a recent study conducted by USAID, UNICEF, and independent think-tank Samuel Hall, reported NBC.

Of those denied access to education, girls make up 60%, stated the report.

Many conservative families remove their daughters from school after puberty in favor of arranged marriages. And in Taliban-controlled areas, the Islamic State frequently targets girls’ schools, resulting in their closure, according to the Post’s report.

So by Aug. 24, 2016, Musazai was already an outlier for her academic achievements — and it was then that she became a target of violence.

As she made her way to the campus mosque that day for evening prayers, Taliban assailants fired their way into the compound. Slowed by the paralysis in her one leg, she could not keep up with her peers as they ran away and was shot in her other leg by an insurgent dressed in a police uniform, according to the Washington Post report.

Read More: The UK Answers Malala's G7 Call to Get Girls Across the World Into Classrooms

The assailant shot her again in the foot before moving on to other victims. Musazai lay on the floor for hours afterward, pretending to be dead, until a real police officer found her and carried her to an ambulance.

After undergoing medical treatment in Dallas for six months — sponsored by an American trustee at her university — Musazai finally returned to Afghanistan to complete her studies, even declining a plea from her fiancé to move with him to Canada.

“I told him it was not the right thing to do,” she said in her interview with the Post.

In fact, she’s set her sights on higher education. Once she has recovered from additional surgeries needed for her toes, Musazai plans to pursue her master’s degree in law or human rights.

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action to ensure that everyone has access to a quality basic education, and action on ending gender inequality. You can join us by taking action on these issues here.