"We love you, Malala!" shouted a group of young girls from a high balcony in Carnegie Hall, where the annual event was held. The teenager blew back a kiss, and proceeded to give an impassioned speech.
"I believe the gun has no power at all," said Malala, who caught the world's attention when the Taliban shot her in the head in October 2012 for criticizing the group's interpretation of Islam, which limits girls' access to education. She has since gained global prominence, has started The Malala Fund to support education for girls, and recently released a memoir, "I Am Malala."
"I believe the gun has no power because a gun can only kill," she said. "But a pen can give life."
It wasn't just the crowd that was taken with Malala; her fellow honorees referred to her often as they took the stage, and the night's most flamboyant honoree, Lady Gaga, said she wished this month's Glamour magazine cover, which features her, had been devoted to Malala instead.
"If I could forfeit my Glamour cover I would give it to Malala," she said.
In a long and sometimes rambling speech, the pop singer, who sported a huge mane of frizzy white hair, a glistening white suit and her typically sky-high platform shoes, also said she thought she looked too artificially beautiful on that cover. "I do not look like that when I wake up in the morning," she said.
Gaga added that despite her huge fame, "my true talent is not the clothes, and not the music. I really feel that what I am best at is seeing the potential in other people." She referred to her campaign against bullying among young people, and recalled the case of a young fan who committed suicide in 2011 after being bullied, Jamey Rodemeyer.
"Do you really know how your child feels when they are home at night?" the singer challenged the crowd.
The evening's Lifetime Achievement Award went to Barbra Streisand, who told the audience that she had been lucky enough to be born with a good singing voice. "That voice ultimately allowed me to speak out and have my opinions heard," said Streisand, 71, who proceeded to forcefully air many of them — including her choice for the next president. "There's never been a woman president," Streisand said, "but I hope that will change very soon — hint, hint! And we really need her now."
She was referring, of course, to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who surprised the crowd by appearing to present a first-time award — Couple of the Year — to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
It was a poignant moment for Giffords, who had been unable to attend when she was honored with a Glamour award in 2011, because she was still recovering from wounds suffered early that year when she was shot while meeting constituents in a supermarket parking lot. "It's been a hard, long time but I'm getting better," she told the crowd, saying she was doing "speech therapy, physical therapy, and yoga too."
"I'm still fighting to make the world a better place, and you can, too," she said. The couple has founded a gun safety organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Another emotional highlight was the appearance of Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a first-grade teacher at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., who saved her pupils from death by herding them into a small bathroom, where they hid as shots rang out last December.
"I have lived my life so as not to let that day define myself — or my students," said Roig-DeBellis, who had much of the audience in tears. She was accompanied by a group of parents whose children she had saved.
Also honored: Melinda Gates, who with her husband, Bill Gates, founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a huge philanthropic force. Gates was described by her award presenter, actress and writer Lena Dunham, as "the most stunning example of putting your money where your mouth is that the world has ever seen."
After the Carnegie Hall ceremony, the honorees, presenters and guests attended a private dinner at the famed Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. It was a scene of fascinating combinations. Lady Gaga approached Malala, for example, and the two took photos together.
"Never be afraid to speak your mind," the pop singer told the activist — who is famous for doing just that. "I can't wait until my fans hear your story," she added.
Watching it all was supermodel Iman, who said she had been deeply moved by Malala's speech.
"She is a game-changer for girls," Iman said. "I wish young girls here knew more about Malala, and less about the Kardashians."