“Another person’s inability to see the light in us should not put us in darkness and fear,” proclaims Shree Saini. Currently a student in the UW Communication Department, Saini is also an anti-bullying activist, dancer, published author who has written 300+ articles for national news publications, actor, UW Speaking Center tutor, Stanford University entrepreneur, political science student at Harvard, and the recently-crowned Miss India USA.
“I am here to help anyone who is struggling with emotional wellbeing,” Saini says of her personal quest. 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.
“My family helped me endure,” she explains. “My mom said, ‘the way they treat you has nothing to do with you, but is everything about 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.”
Saini is, in a word: remarkable.
During the last year there has been a push for more effective anti-bullying campaigns, how do you think we could do better?
“Charity begins at home and then moves to the schools. Parents need to inspire value-based living. They need to stop bullying their children even when they are not performing well in school or while doing chores at home. Instead of insulting, ridiculing and punishing their kids, parents need to provide support and tutoring in areas where a child is struggling. Parents need to look back at their own childhoods and evaluate their performance at that age before belittling a child.
In fact, we all need to do our part to raise children in a respectful environment in which they can flourish. If we dismiss them, they will have lower self-esteem and potentially be full of resentment, hate and anger, which could lead them to go out into the world and hurt others.
I firmly believe 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.”
What role does communication play in these initiatives?
“Media provides mental and emotional nourishment through the sharing of others’ life stories, which is why I feel that reading newspapers is a spiritual experience for me. I feel that all of us should strive to read more and be a positive contributor.
To hate is so easy, but to Love takes real courage. And although anyone can point the finger and say ‘that’s wrong,’ we as responsible citizens instead should ask: ‘what can I do to help solve this particular problem in society?’”
Are there any challenges you have encountered that you feel have made you a better communicator?
“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.
In order to reprogram my brain towards more positive thoughts and reach an understanding of how I can find inner peace in spite of all the negativity, I 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.’”
Are there any moments that have really surprised you during your academic career?
“Yes! Last year I trained in acting at YALE UNIVERSITY! This 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.
My passion for education started when I was very young. Even in high school, my drive led me 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.”
Is there any UW-centric experience that has left a lasting impression on you?
“I recently met David Domke in the Advising Office, and although he did not know me, he still reached out, sat with me, and gave me great guidance on everything from classes to career options. He even invited me to meet with him in his office! His kindness, compassion, humanity, encouraging words, and support has left a lasting impression on me. In fact, when I was crowned [Miss India USA], he was the first UW faculty member to congratulate me! He has been so thoughtful and genuinely excited to celebrate the empowerment I feel via my national title! He inspires me to be a better version of myself.”
What is something you hope to do as Miss India USA that you may not have been able to do before?
“Since I was 15, I have written about my experience for various newspapers. My goal is to reach those individuals who are going through a tough time, in the hopes of helping them. All my articles are available on my website.
Now, with the influence of the crown and the power of the platform provided by 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.”
Is there anything else you want our community to know?
“We need to take control of our own self-worth. We cannot let any other person determine our value for us. I also want to share that I am looking for events where I can go and speak about my journey from a victim to a victor. I truly believe that all of us are works in progress; we need not dwell on our mistakes, but use them instead as learning opportunities in life. Anyone is welcome to contact me via my website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll also be posting about my journey on my personal YouTube channel. Remember: ONE LIFE RISE AND SHINE.”