Malala Yousafzai (1997- ), a Pakistani activist and women’s rights advocate, became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Raised in the Swat Valley of the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan, Malala courageously opposed the brutal regime of the Taliban, who had banned women from attending school. Her convictions, which eventually inspired an international movement, were largely formed by the example of her parents who operated a chain of schools in the region.
On the fateful afternoon of 9 October 2012, Malala had just boarded her local school bus when a gunman asked for her by name. He then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. One of the bullets struck the left side of her forehead and travelled under skin through the length of her face before lodging in her shoulder.
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Louis Braille (1809-1852), at the age of 12, changed the world of reading and writing forever. Six dots and six bumps arranged in various patterns on the page connected the blind to a world they had never known before.
Louis was born 4 January 1809, in the quaint town of Coupvray, France (near Paris). He became blind at the age of 3 years old when, while playing in his father’s harness workshop, Louis grabbed an awl and the tool slipped and hurt his eye. The wound became infected, the infection spread, and sadly, the boy was blinded in both eyes.
But from tragedy came inspiration, as Louis now needed a an entirely new way to learn. Although he remained at his old school for two more years, he was unable to learn everything just by listening. Fortunately, at age 10, Louis received a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. But even there, teachers simply talked at the students. The school’s library contained fourteen huge books with raised letters that were difficult to read…and Louis grew increasingly impatient to learn.
In 1821, the direction of Louis’ education (and life) was dramatically altered with the arrival of a former soldier named Charles Barbier. Barbier shared his invention called “night writing”–a code of 12 raised dots that allowed soldiers to share top-secret information on the battlefield without speaking. Unfortunately for the army, the code was too complicated for soldiers, but not for 12-year-old Louis!
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Jack Thomas Andraka (1997 -) is an American inventor, scientist, and cancer researcher whose controversial, award-winning work on an early detection method for pancreatic cancers was performed while he was still a high school student.
Andraka claims to have invented a new type of sensor, similar to diabetic test strips, for early-stage pancreatic cancer screening. The test strips measure the mesothelin levels–a suspected cancer biomarker–for the presence of cancer. The young scientist coated strips of filter paper with a mixture of single-walled carbon nanotubes (making the paper conductive) to create antibodies against human mesothelin. Samples containing mesothelin were then applied to the paper test strips, and the binding of mesothelin to the antibody was quantified by measuring changes in the electrical properties of the strip.
According to Andraka, tests on human blood serum obtained from both healthy people and patients with chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (a precursor to pancreatic carcinoma), or pancreatic cancer showed a dose-dependent response. According to his research, the method he developed is…
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Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) rose to fame as a controversial entrepreneur and Internet activist.
During his brief life, Swartz tirelessly contested the private ownership of data by attempting to liberate millions of academic articles from various entities and institutions. Highlights include:
- Founded Demand Progress, which launched the campaign against the Internet censorship bills SOPA/PIPA.
- Worked with World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT to develop and popularize standards for sharing data on the Internet.
- Co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification, the industry standard for publishing news stories.
- Created the nonprofit Open Library, an ambitious project to collect information regarding every book ever published.
Aaron Swartz was born on 8 November 1986, in Chicago, Illinois. He taught himself to read by age 3, and by age 12 he had created Info Network, a user-generated encyclopedia, which Swartz later likened to a beta-version of Wikipedia.
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Beloved cartoonist, Charles M. Schultz knew from his earliest memories that all he wanted to do was “draw funny pictures.”
Born 26 November 1922, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Charles grew up reading comic strips with his father Carl. His fascination with cartoons eventually paid off and his drawing of Spike, the family dog was published when he was just 15-years old in the nationally-syndicated “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” newspaper feature. While still a senior in high school, Schultz successfully completed a correspondence cartoon course with the Federal School of Applied Cartooning (now Art Instruction Schools).
The first Peanuts strip was published on 2 October 1950, in seven newspapers nationwide. Although being a professional cartoonist was Schulz’s life-long dream, at 27-years old, he never could have foreseen the longevity and global impact of his seemingly-simple four-panel creation.
His dry, intellectual, and self-effacing humor was a natural fit for the evolving cultural standards of mid-20th century comics and his understated genius lay in his ability to keep the well-known and comfortable characters fresh enough to attract new readers while keeping his current audience coming back for more.
When Schulz announced his retirement in December 1999, the Peanuts comic strip was syndicated in over 2,600 newspapers worldwide, with book collections translated in over 25 languages.
His many awards and honors include:
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a German/Austrian composer during what music historians typically term the Classical Period.
Christened Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus, Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on 27 January 1756 and was educated by his father, Leopold Mozart, a well-known musician who published an acclaimed treatise on the violin.
During Mozart’s brief life he wrote:
The catalogue of his works (known as the Köchel catalogue, often abbreviated as K.) includes 626+ entries.
In childhood, Mozart:
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Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.
—YEHUDA BAUER (1926- )
Anne Frank (1929-1945), a rather ordinary 13-year old Jewish girl raised in Holland during the Nazi occupation, wrote an extraordinary diary whose pages declare the triumph of the human spirit under even the most horrific circumstances.
Fearful of escalating persecution against Jews in Germany, the Frank family (Otto, the father; Edith, his wife; Margot and Anne, the daughters) moved to the Netherlands in 1933, and settled on the Merwedeplein. Their relatively peaceful lives were shattered when Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940.
Life in Nazi-occupied Holland became increasingly restricted until Otto and Edith finally decided that the dangers had become too great and the family went into hiding in July of 1942. Along with the Van Pels family, the Franks lived in a 246-square foot annex hidden above Otto’s offices. They managed to remain hidden for over two years until they were arrested on 4 August 1944, and deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany.
Tragically, Anne died of typhus in March, 1945…just one month before the camp was liberated.
Anne Frank’s deeply personal (and often witty) account of her time in hiding helped to humanize the otherwise incomprehensible tragedy of the Holocaust in which six million innocent lives were snuffed out under Nazi oppression.
Only Otto Frank survived.
He later discovered Anne’s diary and had it published. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl became an international best-seller and to this day remains a very popular and inspiring book.
Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) (1412-1431) was born in Domrémy, Duchy of Bar, France. At the age of 17, she became convinced that God was calling her to lead the French army to victory at the Siege of Orleans (1429) during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453)—one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties waged war for the throne of Western Europe’s largest kingdom.
Joan was later captured by the English in 1430, burned at stake as a heretic in 1431, and canonized as St. Joan by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.
Her shining example of iron conviction and unwavering courage inspired numerous works of art, notably George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play, Saint Joan (widely considered one of his best) and Mark Twain’s largely forgotten 1896 novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (believed by Twain to be his finest work). Both were sympathetic and admiring depictions that stood in stark contrast to William Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, Part 1 in which the character “Joan La Pucelle” is represented as she was commonly viewed by the English of that era: a sorcerous witch whose execution was richly deserved.
The fortunes of France were in rapid decline when Joan arrived at the Chinon court of the Dauphin in early March of 1429. She bore the message that God had commissioned her to lift the Siege of Orleans and to ensure the Dauphin’s safe return to Reims Cathedral for his coronation.
Several of Joan’s fellow military commanders were initially unimpressed with the teenager, but she managed to win the loyalty of almost every soldier and pursued—over the cautious objections of several other commanders—an aggressive strategy that directly attacked the besiegers. Her victory at Orleans cleared the remaining English-held towns in the Loire River valley and Charles VII (1403-1461) was formally coronated in 1429.
True to her vision, Joan’s crucial intervention at Orleans had turned the tide in the Hundred Years’ War…even though she did not live to see the fruits of her victory.
On 16 September 1863, 13-year old William H. “Willie” Johnston (1850-?) became the youngest soldier in American history to receive the Medal of Honor (he actually performed the service when he was just 11-years old).
Born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Willie enlisted in the Union army as an 11-year old drummer boy in Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry (his father was a corporal in the same regiment).
During General George B. McClellan’s unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862), the 3rd Vermont was assigned to William T. H. Brooks’ Vermont Brigade of William F. Smith’s 2nd Division of William B. Franklin’s VI Corps, and Willie would see his first action at the Battle of Lee’s Mill in Virginia (16 April 1862).
It was during his next campaign, the Seven Days Battles (25 June to 1 July 1862), that the boy would be cited for bravery. In the general rout that followed the Union’s defeat, great numbers of panic-stricken soldiers discarded their weapons and equipment while fleeing the battlefield. But not the courageous 11-year old. Willie was the only drummer in his entire division who held on to his instrument. Brigadier General “Baldy” Smith took note of the boy’s bravery and on his recommendation, Willie Johnston became the youngest-ever recipient of the Medal of Honor (16 September 1863).
Some historians have proposed that President Lincoln heard the story and wrote to his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, suggesting the youth be awarded a medal, but no evidence for this version of events has been found. Regardless, Stanton approved the award, and although no official reports detailing the reasons for Willie’s award survive, the story was referenced in contemporary newspapers.
This was the second Medal of Honor ever awarded.
Willie was still alive in 1899, when he attended a Medal of Honor Legion reunion in Burlington, Vermont and the date of his death and burial location remain unknown.