Work ethic, passion earn accolades for NIU student from Palatine
There are students who follow their professors' advice, and then there is Kiranjit "Kiran" Gill.
"She's done everything right. She's made no mistakes. None," said Artemus Ward, professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, where Kiran was selected as the university's top senior this year. "That's what makes her the best undergraduate student I've encountered in 20 years."
Kiran, 21, of Palatine, is a political science major who plans to become a lawyer, possibly in the field of employment. Working with the law might later open doors to politics or nonprofits, she said. But no matter what, she's committed to helping others and making a difference in the world.
"I've always loved the idea of justice and equality for people," she said. "Whatever I do, that's always there."
Kiran, who serves as president of NIU's Pre-Law Honors Society, studied abroad as a freshman, has published research and has interned twice for U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.
"Kiran showed a lot of potential in both in my Eighth District and Capitol Hill offices, and her consistent work ethic and dedication are both impressive and admirable," Duckworth said. "It's no surprise that a promising young leader like Kiran has achieved so much at such a young age."
Being chosen as NIU's Student Lincoln Laureate -- awarded annually to the school's top senior -- is her proudest accomplishment, said Kiran, who's earned a GPA of 3.82 on a 4.0 scale.
"It's something I never expected. I guess anytime anything surprises you, it makes it even more special."
Kiran said she learned the value of hard work from her father, Balwinder Gill, who has a law degree from India and works at a Menards home improvement store, and her mother Ravinder Gill, who works at a Jewel-Osco grocery store.
Her father chose to leave his legal career in India behind to seek a better life for his family in the United States, which in turn inspired Kiran to study the law. She also was shaped by her family's Sikh religion, which she said is founded on principles of equality among all.
"Being Indian is a minority, and being Sikh is a really different type of minority," she said. "I'm often one of the few Sikhs, or the only one, that people have ever met, so it's important to be a learning tool for people."
Her parents also taught her to always take the initiative, no matter how far-fetched, she said.
That advice led to her getting into NIU's Research Rookies program as a freshman, a rare feat. Also as a freshman, Kiran studied with NIU students and faculty at Oxford University in England, an opportunity open only to students who earn at least 30 credits for the year.
The Research Rookies program links undergraduates with faculty mentors to conduct research projects.
Kiran was paired with Ward and ended up co-authoring a study on U.S. Supreme Court law clerks that was published in the Marquette Law Review.
"She's had a sustained level of commitment and excitement from day one. That is something you just do not see (among students)," Ward said. "She's somebody who really wants to do the right thing in college -- and does it."
Kiran has held several jobs while in school, and currently works as director of governmental affairs for the NIU Student Association. This year's big initiative -- and a personal passion for Kiran -- is getting students registered to vote.
'There was a time when my parents couldn't vote; then they got naturalized and were allowed to vote," she said. "My parents are very diligent about voting, and so am I. When you grow up with that, you realize it's such a big thing, because some people don't get to vote."
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Kiran GillAge: 21
School: Northern Illinois University
Who inspires you? My parents because of everything they've been able to do after coming here from India.
What book are you reading? "Five Point Someone" by Chetan Bhagat.
What music are you listening to? A lot of Coldplay.
The three words that best describe you? Adaptable. Relatable. Funny.