Skip to main content

Talk given by Madeline Arnold: “We seek after knowledge and wisdom.” From the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations on March 14, 2017.

As a freshman at Brigham Young University, Madeleine Arnold is a pre-dental student studying physiology and developmental biology. She has always had a love for music, particularly piano teaching and performance, and has won numerous awards, including first place in a national piano competition in 2015. Representing a program that promotes scholarship and leadership for young women, Madeleine was named the Distinguished Young Woman of Utah and the first runner-up to the DYW of America in 2016.  She visited a refugee camp in Greece last summer with her family after helping to organize a relief campaign to gather toys and supplies for children and families in crisis.

Kofi Annan, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and former Secretary-General of the United Nations said, “Knowledge is power.  Information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

We seek after knowledge and wisdom.  As women, we recognize that knowledge is power.  That notion of power is especially applicable to us because of our roles as mothers, nurturers and teachers.  I love the African Proverb, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual.  But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

Women have many spheres of influence.  These spheres may include her home, her place of work, her community, and yes, even her nation or the world.  We each have a responsibility to gain wisdom and knowledge and then to share what we can with those within our spheres.

My grandma is a great example to me of recognizing the importance of education and encouraging learning within her spheres of influence.  She is a teacher herself, and her love for learning has always been clear to me.  Her walls are covered in art posters, poetry and inspiring thoughts.  Her shelves are full of books, and whenever I would go to visit her, she would send home a few treasures she wanted me to read.  She loves ideas, music and learning new things.  She follows the news and happenings in the world with interest, and she readily discusses her points of view while valuing the opinions of others.  

Halfway through raising her nine children, 7 of whom were daughters, she found herself single.  With much sacrifice on her part, all nine of her children received a college degree, and 6 went on to earn advanced degrees.  She had set the culture in her home that education was a priority and learning was a lifelong endeavor worth any sacrifice.  She passed that love for learning on to my mom, who then passed it on to my siblings and me.  That legacy will live on.

No matter our circumstance, we have a responsibility to take advantage of available opportunities to grow in knowledge and wisdom.  Not only do we seek after that for ourselves, but we recognize education as a necessity for all women.

The benefits of educating girls are numerous and significant.  Some benefits include:

  • Decreased child and mother mortality
  • Enhancement of child nutrition and health
  • Increased community and political participation
  • Increased income potential and economic growth
  • Protection from abuse, exploitation, and gender-based violence
  • And finally, empowerment of women.

Yet, globally, 32 million primary-aged girls are missing out on school.  98 million more girls are missing out on secondary education.  That’s 130 million girls total that are out of school.  130 million too many.

One of the most amazing examples of standing up for education for all women is a girl about my age.  Her name is Malala Yousafzai.  As a young girl, Malala became an advocate for education for girls.  Because she chose to speak out, she was targeted and shot by the Taliban.  However, she did not let them silence her voice, and she continues to be an advocate for education.  She said, “Let us pick up our books and our pens.  They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

The amazing thing about Malala is that her life’s work started with her simply doing what she could within her small sphere of influence, which, through an unexpected turn of events, has now grown to be the whole world.  I’ve looked at myself and thought, who can I affect?  Right now, I am pursuing my own education.  I am at a school where the university mission statement is “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”  I can do my part to make a difference wherever I am and at whatever stage I am in.

There is a wonderful program I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in called Days for Girls.  In many poverty-stricken countries, girls’ menstrual cycles prevent them from going to school.  The Days for Girls organization makes thousands of kits to give to girls.  These kits provide sustainable feminine hygiene products so that during their periods, girls can stay in school.  Thus, “days for girls”—days in school, days learning, days improving their future. I have loved helping this organization because this is something I can do to help support the education of girls throughout the world.  There might be things I cannot do right now, but there are many things I can do within my sphere of influence.

My grandma recently returned from spending a year and a half in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where she volunteered to teach English and basic employment skills.  Even in the poverty-stricken area she was in, the people recognized the importance of an education. She witnessed that it was the mothers who were setting this as the priority above everything else.

Enrollment in her English classes grew to over 400 in 9 classes as the word about the classes spread. Some were moms who wanted to be able to speak English to help their children.  Because they could not afford the undependable and expensive public transportation, students walked miles to attend. The unpaved roads were dusty in the dry season and became long, deep mud puddles from the daily storms during the six-month rainy season.  Attendance was amazing; many had over 80% —some even 100%—- attendance. They were punctual and excellent students. They took advantage of opportunities placed before them to learn.  They seek knowledge.

According to my grandma, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the poorest nations in the world, now, primarily due to the determination of the mothers, many are becoming educated, and as a result, this rising, more educated generation will help to change their government and bring their country out of poverty.

We might ask ourselves today, What is my sphere of influence?  What can I grow it to become?  Am I seeking opportunities for education, learning, and wisdom, and am I helping others to find these opportunities as well?  

As women, we cannot underestimate the importance of gaining knowledge and wisdom.  For this is power.