Schoolgirl Zoey To Suet-ying knows what it is like to be young and dangerous. She used to play truant, shunned her parents, and got in trouble with the police. Today, however, she is helping other teenagers cherish their lives by telling them how she changed from being a bad girl to a top student. Zoey was one of 20 secondary school pupils selected by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups this year as role models, particularly for wayward teens and poor academic achievers. Dressed in the tidy brown uniform of CMA Choi Cheung Kok Secondary School in Tuen Mun, the 17-year-old looks and acts like most other schoolgirls - chattering, giggling and well-behaved. However, Zoey has not always been a model of good behaviour. Rebelliousness goes hand in hand with adolescence, but Zoey went too far. 'I was a rebel and I didn't worry about people's criticism of me at all,' she says, recalling her early years in secondary school. 'Home to me was more like a hotel and my parents were strangers.' Zoey believed her father, a real estate broker, and her housewife mother would never understand her thoughts and ideas. There were a lot of quarrels, and to avoid this, she stayed away from home for long periods. 'I sang karaoke, went to discos and hung around with friends I met randomly in the streets at night. I smoked and drank a lot. I thought it was a very cool lifestyle. 'And I felt fed up with study and school.' When she bothered to go to school, she usually slept through lessons. Sometimes she stole things like sweets and pencils from supermarkets for fun. Her encounters with the police only added to the fun. 'One of my friends and I got caught by the police when we were shoplifting cosmetics.' While her friend burst into tears, Zoey tried to pass it off as a joke. 'I told her I could play a triad and protect her.' Then, three years ago, the young 'triad girl' found she had a malignant tumour in her spine. It proved to be a turning point in her life. She had gone to see a doctor in the hope of getting a sick certificate so she could get out of school. An X-ray revealed her condition. 'I couldn't believe it,' Zoey says, recalling those stressful days as she struggled with the illness. She still remembers the day the doctor told her mother about the severity of her tumour. 'The treatment beat me down and I passed out. My mother saw me and thought I was dead. She cried her heart out. At that moment, I realised she loved me. 'My parents took care of me day and night, which touched me deeply.' After a year of treatment, Zoey returned to school and studied hard. Her long-term plan is to study biology and protect wild animals. 'Now I am with my family and making up for the lost time,' she said.