Shamsea Alizada’s story could so easily have ended when she was just 15.
A coal miner’s daughter whose family had moved all around Afghanistan seeking safety and the chance for her and her siblings to get a good education, Ms. Alizada was among the lucky who evaded the suicide bombing that killed dozens of her fellow students at a Kabul tutoring center two years ago.
But if it was luck that saved Ms. Alizada, now 17, it was resilience and hard work that made her a national inspiration, when it was announced on television on Thursday that she had achieved the highest score out of nearly 200,000 students on Afghanistan’s national university entrance exam. Her mother saw it and gave her the happy news personally.
“I thought she was kidding. But when I entered the room, I saw the brightest smile on my mother’s face,” Ms. Alizada said in an interview. “I have seen her smiling, but yesterday’s smile was something else. Her smile was a gift and made my day; it was better than gaining the highest score in the country.”
A generation ago, she would probably never have gotten the chance. Under Taliban rule, girls were prevented from going to school. It is the success of Ms. Alizada and young Afghans like her that have provided one of the few bright spots in the decades of war and unrealized Western goals since: More girls are not only going to school, they are also starting to translate that into social mobility.
Ms. Alizada was a junior student at a tutoring center that prepared underprivileged Afghans for the country’s competitive university entrance exam when a suicide bomber walked into a lecture hall packed with more than 200 older students and detonated his explosive vest.
Half of the students in the room were killed or wounded, and Ms. Alizada lost friends and young women she looked up to. A center that incubated a universal dream — a good education as the ticket out of poverty and oppression — was turned into a scene of carnage, the algebra equations on the whiteboard covered in blood.
That kind of violence keeps ending young, hopeful Afghan lives every day, curtailing the dreams of women and minorities even before the Taliban can start imposing terms. Extremists in Afghanistan, in essence, control both sides of that equation — keeping up the violence to help their position in talks now, while holding to their goal of a return to an unbending Islamic rule later.
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