Crystal Wang wanted to be class president her freshman year at Memorial High School.
With only a self-described “small circle” of friends from Memorial Middle School, she knew she needed to make a splash, so she did what she’s always done in such moments – she wrote a song.
“I performed (the song) in the gym in front of 600 people, who were clapping along,” Wang said. “Now it’s a school meme. People still know the song. It was an iconic moment.”
Wang has always defaulted, so to speak, to music. She started performing when she was 3 – “I love the stage,” she said – and began songwriting at age 7. And what was she expressing through that first song? “I was insulted that my parents made me do my homework,” she said.
She’s classically trained in piano, voice and guitar, and can play the pipa, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument.
She began releasing her music around age 13, working with producers and others in a recording studio.
“(Who I work with) depends on the sound I’m after,” Wang said. “I do some electronic music where I tell a producer what sound I want and he helps put it together.”
She said the recording process takes a long time, between laying down tracks and writing and editing the songs.
She’s also appeared on “Voice of China”, a Chinese reality-TV show similar to “The Voice.”
She was 15 and in Los Angeles and had survived several elimination rounds to become a finalist when, she said, she realized that only one person wins and gets to go back to China (for the show).
Just like she did when running for class president, Wang reached deep and did what she does best.
“I just went for it,” she said. “I played to my strengths and did a Beyonce song I love (Halo) and one of my original songs (She’s a Fool).” She won the U.S. region and participated on the Chinese show.
But while Crystal Wang is quite musically accomplished, she’s also caring and empathetic – and smart enough to do something with it.
When a cousin was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, Wang wanted to help but didn’t know how. She first retreated to music and wrote a song – “Soar with Me” – about hope and staying strong.
But she wanted to do more. She realized that many cancer patients lack personal interactions outside their treatments. So she started SOAR – Students for Oncological Aid Relief – and started taking donations for CARE packages.
“We were able to put smiles on people’s faces,” she said.
She also organized a fundraising event featuring local performers. Local congressional representatives Al Green and Pete Olsen attended. The event raised more than $9,000 and generated a lot of interest on social media.
Wang started hearing from others and now SOAR is national, with seven chapters in Texas, one in California and one in Massachusetts. In just 2 ½ years SOAR has raised more than $33,000 and impacted some 1,800 families.
Founding and growing a nonprofit also helped Wang discover something about herself.
“(SOAR) has a secondary mission, to inspire students to be that person to make a difference,” she said. “I didn’t know I had that ability until my cousin was diagnosed.”
She and several friends were selected to present at South by Southwest in Austin this past spring where they talked about the experience of being youth entrepreneurs.
They first talked to a group of educators, imploring them to start early and help “unbox” entrepreneurs.
A second and far larger group heard how youth are the leaders of tomorrow, she said, and how business can help young entrepreneurs.
Wang also created a platform called Gen Z Lead and had her audience sign up to be mentors, no matter their field. Hundreds volunteered. “We’re in the process of connecting those mentors (with mentees),” she said.
A Memorial valedictorian, Wang is headed to Harvard in the fall, where she’s entering a dual-degree program in music and entrepreneurship with the Berklee College of Music. She’ll study economics for four years at Harvard then do a year at Berklee for a Master’s.
“I’m solid academically and I’ve taken rigorous classes (at Memorial),” she said. “I like to be intellectually stimulated.”
She also enjoys her position on the MHS Student Council’s executive board, which she says she can use as a platform for her ideas.
For instance, several years ago she started Kindness Week at Memorial, which is now an annual event. And she started Mental Health Awareness Week, to help relieve student stress.
She’s an all-state soprano in Memorial’s choir program and this year gets to plan the choir’s spring pop show – “calling the shots,” as she puts it.
Memorial Principal Lisa Weir says that’s just like Crystal Wang.
“Crystal is no spectator,” Weir said. “She is fully engaged in all that she does and her contributions to the school and the community are significant.”
Wang wouldn’t disagree.
“I’m a perfectionist,” she said. “I like to be in control.”
by Rusty Graham