Almost 10 years ago, Remy Choo Zheng Xi gave speeches in a T-shirt and jeans at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park.
Now the 29-year-old lawyer continues his activism in a suit in the courtroom, taking on public interest litigation cases.
Many of these are politically sensitive. They include blogger Alex Au's charges of contempt of court and the Section 377A constitutional challenge.
For his efforts, Mr Choo was named the civil society advocate of the year at the second annual Singapore Advocacy Awards yesterday.
Organised by civil society activist group The Working Committee 3, the awards honour those who have made major contributions to the growth of civil society here.
"I have the immense privilege of marrying my activism and my legal career," Mr Choo said in his acceptance speech.
He thanked his mentor and "role model", lawyer Peter Low, whose work in public litigation, including the Marxist conspiracy cases in the 1980s, inspired him.
He told The Straits Times that his win is an important opportunity to inspire young lawyers to go down the path of public interest litigation, which was once regarded as taboo. Civil society activism such as this can bring to Singapore a healthy diversity, he added.
"For Singapore to develop in the long term, we need to celebrate diversity and differences in opinion. An intolerant society is a brittle society," said Mr Choo.
Two other awards were also presented at last night's ceremony at Orchard Central. Architectural historian Imran Tajudeen was named most promising new civil society advocate for raising awareness on issues such as Malay heritage and racialised representation in Singapore. Sociopolitical website The Online Citizen also bagged an award for civil society advocate organisation of the year.
Mrs Constance Singam, a former president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) who sat on the eight-member judging panel, said it is important to celebrate civil society activists. "They do good work in changing attitudes and bringing forth sensitive issues.
"The longer you talk about it and have these debates, you start opening people's minds to these issues and break down the apathy."