Beautiful, compassionate, talented, ambitious, gentle, humble, determined and dedicated to achieving the lofty goals she has set before herself at a very young age, Shree Saini is a woman with a golden heart. Shree from the state of Washington was crowned ‘Miss India USA 2017-2018’ at the pageant held in December last year in New Jersey. And her life has not been the same ever since.
Born in India, young Shree says, she moved to the United States as a toddler. Being uprooted from one’s culture and dear ones was undoubtedly a major challenge. She had to experience hardships while in high school, where she was bullied. Young Shree fought bravely a heart ailment which required her to use a pacemaker. Shree, who had a pacemaker implanted at the age of 12 and was told that she would never be able to dance, is an inspiration for all. “I practice dance almost every day for several hours,” Shree says, pointing to the pacemaker she carries with her all the time.
After doctors diagnosed her with a congenital heart defect at the age of 12, Saini recalls how she struggled to adapt to the life-changing situation of needing a pacemaker while still in middle school, especially when other students did not treat her kindly as a result.
“I have been the target of brutal emotional bullying. I was ridiculed in the most subtle ways, which is why I so often talk about ‘nonverbal’ bullying. For example, there were many instances where I was left out of events or edited out of pictures, and daily ‘whispered about’ by others. As a result of this treatment, there were many times when I would cry in my school’s restrooms or come home in tears after dance class… yet I persevered.
“My family helped me endure,” she explains. “My mom said, ‘the way people treat you has nothing to do with you, but has everything to do with them.’ She empowered me to step up and be even more compassionate towards those who hurt me, and to never give up on my true belief in always being kind.”
In order to reprogram her brain towards more positive thoughts and reach an understanding of how she could find inner peace in spite of all the negativity, she read extensively. “I read books and essays on achieving a more powerful mindset, responding to acts of hate with compassion, and the true value of emotional fitness and what can be done to address the lack of education around it. From what I have learned, I have formed my personal mantra: ‘Giving powerful responses to life’s struggles while being a positive contributor to every situation.’”
These experiences did not deter young Shree from pursuing her life’s mission. “My journey went from a silent sufferer to a bitter person and finally an enabled victor,” she says. “If anything, the physical challenges and social pressures fueled her – all the way to the Joffrey Ballet and beyond, including winning the title of Miss India USA.”
Shree created the website www.ShreeSaini.com to educate people about her experiences. “It was created based on my personal struggles during my high school,” Saini says. Her hope is that it would inspire others to emulate and face the world with confidence and love. Her former tormentors are now her fans. Via social media, she’s received their congratulations – and apologies.
A woman with a noble mission, what the 22-year-old University of Washington student, is aspiring to achieve in her life, is to create awareness on a number of pressing social issues through her organization, and through her web-portal. “I began my nonprofit at age 15. I work on raising awareness and raising funds for several nonprofits including anti-human trafficking and anti-bullying,” the young visionary says. “I am very passionate about my nonprofit and want to lead a life of service,” she says. “I want to help end human trafficking and work to promote the importance of emotional well-being in our society.”
In addition, she uses the many social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, among others, to enhance her life’s mission. Through Shree Saini YouTube page, she wants to spread her message by creating short videos of discussions on social issues, college life, raising awareness of important organizations and human rights, as well as anything to help the community.
Shree won the Miss India USA after many years of focus and practice, participating and winning in several pageants. Shree has competed in a number of pageants within the Miss America organization. She was the first runner-up at Miss Moses Lake 2014, Miss Seattle 2016 and Miss Seattle 2017. She also won the Miss Seattle People’s Choice Award in 2016 and 2017, and Miss Congeniality, Highest Fundraiser, Director’s Award. All her pageant exposure has served as a platform for what she truly loves, in spreading awareness against bullying and other social issues. As Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, says, “Shree has used her platform to spread her story of perseverance, tolerance and heart health.”
Miss India USA was started by the New York-based community leaders Dharmatma Saran and Neelam Saran, under the banner of the India Festival Committee around 36 years ago, Miss India USA is the longest running Indian pageant outside India. “It has evolved over the years. Earlier, the participants of pageants presented their talent around Bollywood dance and songs and classical dances. But now pageant participants come out with their own innovations,” Dharmatma Saran said.
More than 50 contestants from over two dozen states participated in the three different pageants – Miss India USA, Miss Teen India USA and Mrs. India USA. “I am so incredibly honored, overjoyed, humbled and excited to be chosen as your “MISS INDIA USA 2017”! God’s amazing grace has surpassed all the words I may have to express this fete. I am astonished by the blessings showered over me,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Shree, who was also voted as ‘Miss Congeniality,’ and will represent the USA at Miss India Worldwide Pageant, where all national title holders like Miss India France, Miss India Australia, Miss India United Kingdom etc. will contest for the title of Miss India Worldwide in December this year. Winners of the pageants here have gone on to act in various Bollywood movies.
Indian American beauty pageant winner Shree Saini has been in a public profile for years. She literally can make her choice on how she wants to mold her image and pave the way for her future.
Shree Saini, an undergraduate student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in public administration and business, wants to “lead a life of service.” When asked between the many engagements around the nation, where she finds the time to study, Shree says, “I study on the plane, while waiting for flights, as almost every weekend, there is an event I need to attend.”
Her passion for education started when she was very young. Even in high school, her drive led Shree to graduate with the highest number of high school credits (46, although only 26 were required). “I know education is vital to solving any of the world’s problems, and have therefore always stayed curious and dedicated myself to obtaining life skills, like public speaking, as well as gaining more knowledge by studying political science at Harvard University, and establishing my own emotional wellbeing startup at Stanford University.”
Pointing to some of the hard work she had to put in, Shree says, the Acting Program she attended at Yale was a very intensive conservatory program for actors comprised of 12+ hours of classes daily, which were then followed by rehearsals. With my heart condition, I had to work extra hard (just as I need to do in dance or as a UW student) in order to match the performance level of other physically-able actors. And, she succeeded through determination and hard work.
Her ambition to learn and conquer what she is set to achieve in life has taken Shree to some of the most prestigious schools across the United States. Saini, who studied journalism at UW and has attended as a visiting student at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, aspires to push legislation through local governments.
After dealing with her own personal experiences, Saini penciled her thoughts in a journal, which she said helped change her from a victim to an empowered young woman. The journals in her diary turned to newspaper clippings in local papers in Washington. “In a society mainly obsessed with physical fitness, emotional problems are dismissed,” noted the young activist. “Emotional well-being is necessary to have a healthy body and mind,” she says.
Shree Saini is working on pushing through bill nationwide that will help implement emotional well-being classes for K through 12. “The classes will help start at a young age to build self-esteem.” Saini hopes to follow up her undergraduate degree with graduate courses at an Ivy League school, where she intends to study public administration or policy making and nonprofit management.
A brilliant student and learner, Shree believes that children learn what they live in their own households. “Parents need to radiate kindness, and be generous enough to overlook minor offenses, while still raising responsible kids who will heal our societies.”
Shree gives credit to her parents, Sanjay and Ekta Saini, who have not only supported her dreams, but have gone beyond to help her succeed at every step of the way. Pointing to her mother, Ekta, Shree says, “My mother is my role model, who has been with me, supported me and have encouraged me to work hard and realize my dreams.”
As the reigning Miss India USA, “I believe I will be able to make even more of an impact. During my reign, I am responsible for reaching out to individuals, nonprofits, businesses, and schools to make at least 100 appearances during the next 12 months. At every event, I strive to raise public awareness about the value of emotional fitness. I find I am able to engage audiences by asking them my most powerful question: ‘What is more important to you than your own emotional wellbeing?’ I also share my personal story of receiving a pacemaker at age 12, being brutally bullied, and then having to build myself back up emotionally.” She is committed to live a life of service where she intends to teach people about love, harmony and tolerance.
Shree is now focused on winning the title of Miss India Worldwide. And if good offers come her way, Shree is open to acting in movies, whether it be in Bollywood or Hollywood. Another effective way to showcase her talents and still more importantly, another way to champion and spread her message for a better, just and peaceful world. “Meanwhile, I want to continue working on my nonprofit and become an ambassador of emotional health by continuing to visit s many places as possible,” Saini said.