By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Miss India USA 2017 Shree Saini is a success story crafted with resilience and sheer will. The 21-year-old Washington resident has decided to dedicate her life to service.
When Shree Saini was about 3 years old, she watched contestants of an international beauty pageant take the stage in beautiful gowns, and use their words and actions to bring about positive change around them. She too dreamt of taking center stage to win a crown one day and even told a teacher about her goal. On Dec. 17, 2017, Saini’s dream came true. She was crowned Miss India USA at a pageant held in New Jersey.
The United States became home for Saini at the age of 7 when her parents moved to Moses Lake, Wash. from Punjab, India. Back in India, ‘Shree’ is used as a term of respect and loosely translates to radiance. Contrary to what her name implies, Saini was bullied as a child in her Eastern Washington school, where she was the only brown Indian girl with wild dark hair. “Bullied and singled out by classmates, I’d run home crying to my mother every day,” Saini said. “My mum counseled me each day and asked me to be strong,” she added.
Instead of becoming a negative person, Saini turned to books and began journaling. “That’s where I found my peace and the strength to face my bullies,” Saini said. She has amassed 15 journals and goes through them for inspiration.
Her habit of journaling has seen her write several articles for various causes.
In the face of bullying, Saini chose to focus on her grades and excel in her passion on the dance floor. Life also decided to throw another challenge at her when she was diagnosed with a heart problem as a 12-year-old. She had a pacemaker implanted to regulate her heartbeat. Not one to be deterred, Saini went on to master five different dance forms. At the pageant, she won the talent round by choreographing and performing a piece that showed how she overcame her challenges and evolved into the person she is today.
Having discovered that the act of bullying stems from a lack of understanding or personal insecurities early on, Saini has made it her mission to fight against bullying and encouraging people to become the best versions of themselves. She does this through the many articles she writes, speeches she gives, fundraising, and volunteering for causes.
“Over the years, several of my peers from school have gotten in touch with me to apologize for their behavior,” Saini said. She wants to dedicate her life to service.
“I want to eliminate human trafficking from society and have also contributed to emotional wellbeing in our education system,” Saini, who also creates awareness about heart health, added.
The 21-year-old is a full-time student at the University of Washington. She is pursuing business and public administration degrees with courses taken at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. She has worked towards and supported the cause of having Washington state understand and include education on emotional health in schools. The emotional learning curriculum will be added to schools in the state by July 1, 2018.
The Miss India USA pageant is one of the most prestigious pageants for the Indian American community in the United States, and many of its former winners and participants have been able to cross over to Bollywood (the Hindi movie industry). Saini has already garnered interest among movie makers, but says it is too early to give out details. When asked about how she views the film industry, especially given its limited roles for strong female characters, Saini is confident. “The film industry in India has evolved lately. There have been a lot of roles that I would be happy to play,” Saini said, adding, “I’d love to keep my options open in Bollywood and Hollywood and play on my strengths in both industries.” Taking a cautious approach, she and her parents are ensuring they do their homework and work with trustworthy and good people.
Until the right opportunity comes along, Saini is keeping a level head. “The Miss India worldwide pageant is held in October and I have to prepare for that,” she said. However, until then, Saini is taking a little break. She is going back to university to celebrate her 22nd birthday and giving into a few gastronomic indulgences.
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.