She sits in class, her brown curls perched just above her shoulders and a smile spread across her face. Sixteen year old Gabriella Zhao always seems intrigued by what she’s learning, and she impresses her classmates with her eloquent and confident responses.
But most students would be even more impressed if they knew she was the founder of United Singapore, a community organization that works to stimulate homogeneity and national pride by connecting youths of different backgrounds to celebrate their national identity through a variety of campaigns and events as the next generation of Singapore.
I first met this wide-eyed and friendly girl in my AP Seminar class. Gabriella was a new student to SAS last year as a sophomore, yet she didn’t seem to be the typical, shy newcomer. She was never too nervous to say or do anything, even in our large school. She immediately stood out to me as a curious classmate: always asking questions or clarifying a statement.
And while adjusting to her new school, she also managed to start a youth movement through United Singapore. The junior was inspired by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong to create her platform. It was Loong’s speech at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership Conference regarding Singapore’s national identity crisis that provoked Gabriella to combat this issue with a social approach. She aimed to bring a vision of unity and longevity to Singapore.
“In order to combat the National Identity Crisis that will take place in the next 50 years, we needed to shake the foundation of Singapore by transforming the mindset of the next generation,” Gabriella said. “It was important to provide them an opportunity to recognize the importance of identifying with the National Identity.”
However, Gabriella recalls the skepticism surrounding her vision of United Singapore at such a young age. An optimistic person, or as Gabriella says, “too blindly optimistic at times,” she was eager to pursue her goals. When she sat down with her parents to share her devotion to this project, she knew at that moment that “there was no turning back.”
And Gabriella never did. Today, the organization is ever-growing in size and events, with approximately 30,000 views online. On Feb. 28 she hosted her first event, Le Tour De Singapore, at the Gardens by the Bay. Gabriella hoped that through sportsmanship, this cycling event would provide Singapore’s youth with a voice.
Throughout the event, participants were asked a series of 35 challenging and thought-provoking questions regarding national identity. One hundred people from 10 different local schools, including SAS, came together for this event.
The event ran smoothly, but creating a non-profit community organization has not been easy. As Gabriella puts it, “ignorance is bliss.”
“Coming into this, I had no idea how many obstacles I would encounter, and ironically, that was the reason I was able to establish this organization in the first place,” Gabriella said. “If I had known ahead of time all the challenges that may come in my way, I might have made a better judgement and decided to pursue this after I graduate.”
Thankfully, throughout the process of creating United Singapore, Gabriella has learned not to give in to obstacles. “I thought everything through. If Plan A doesn’t work, there is always Plan B, C, and D.”
The wide eyed, wavy haired, curious girl continues to impress everyone with her perseverance and determination. “So many have attempted to waver my values, but I kept myself grounded with my visions,” Gabriella said.