New outlook for student after interview with Pakistani teen

KAHULUI – Nowadays, 13-year-old Renee Matsuda tries not to complain when she wakes up for school on Mondays.

The Maui Waena Intermediate School 8th-grader had grumbled about how she didn’t want to go to school at the beginning of the week. But after interviewing and learning about a 16-year-old girl who was shot in the head for attending school, her feelings have changed.

In October, Matsuda, the president of the school’s media club, was shown in a pretaped video clip on “PBS NewsHour” asking internationally renowned Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai a question. Matsuda was the only student to do so, her teacher and club adviser Jennifer Suzuki said.

Yousafzai became an international figure in 2012 after Taliban gunmen shot her in the head while she was coming home from school. She had been campaigning for girls’ rights to attend school. She has since recovered and has been campaigning internationally for education, especially for girls in all regions of the world, according to PBS. She has won numerous awards and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Matsuda, then 12, was seen on “NewsHour” asking Yousafzai the following:

“You’re 16 years old, only four years older than me and yet you accomplished so much, so what are your plans for the future?”

Yousafzai replied that Matsuda asked a “great question.”

She said she has been continuing work with her Malala Foundation, which is fighting for educating girls and building schools and providing for teacher training as well as motivating students’ parents.

But she said that when she is grown and “much older,” she would delve into politics.

“It want to help my people and help in education,” Yousafzai said.

Even though the experience was several months ago, Matsuda said it has taught her lessons she won’t forget.

“It makes me change my mood on Mondays,” she said smiling.

She often is reminded about her experience on television when relatives say, “I saw you on TV.”

Maui Waena Intermediate School is part of PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs network, which made the experience possible. The school participates in PBS Hawaii’s Hiki No, the nation’s first statewide student news network, according to PBS.

As for Yousafzai’s response, Matsuda said she thought it was a good one.

“I really liked her answer. It was worth the (video) takes and memorizing the question,” Matsuda said of the hard work she put into the video clip.

“I feel it is important for girls and guys to go to school,” Matsuda added. “I can totally see (Yousafzai) in politics. She would be good in that field.”

Matsuda said she wouldn’t be as brave as Yousafzai, who acknowledged who she was to a Taliban gunman who entered a bus she was on and searched for her and eventually shot her in the head.

Although she has received national exposure as a young reporter, Matsuda said she doesn’t think she’ll go into journalism. Instead, she’s considering pursuing a major in civil engineering, a field her parents, Eric and Annette Matsuda, both work in.

But the Kahului resident said she would like to gain interviewing skills and learn more about current events.

Suzuki said she’s proud of Matsuda and added that there were at least 100 students from across the country that submitted a video question.

Five were chosen to be featured, but Matsuda’s was the first on the list and the program apparently only had time for one student question.

“It was such an honor,” Suzuki said.

She added that Matsuda and Yousafzai both had trouble pronouncing each other’s names, and they practiced to make sure they didn’t mess it up. Suzuki said an official from PBS told her that Yousafzai repeatedly made sure she pronounced “Renee” correctly so she would not offend the fellow teenager.

Suzuki said that showed how “real” and genuine Yousafzai is.

Suzuki also had praise for Matsuda, whom other students call “bubbles” for her upbeat personality and positive attitude. Suzuki said Matsuda always smiles, has good ideas and can shoot video, produce segments and do on-camera interviews.

“She’s like magic,” she said of her student.

Matsuda’s video can be found by searching the “PBS NewsHour” website at

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at