Written by Lucero Benitez, COSS Communications Specialist
“Learning history is like peering through a window of the past,” Noorjot Kaur remembers her Rio Vista Middle School teacher saying on the first day of class.
As she sat in the front of the class, watching a slideshow on the importance of learning history, the aspiring attorney realized it was up to her to create her own.
“In order to understand why I chose history as my major, one has to learn my history and that of my parents,” Kaur said.
Kaur was born in San Jose and raised in Selma until she was 7 years old, when she was taken to India to live with her grandparents while her parents returned to the United States. They struggled to become financially stable after their restaurant crashed due to the 2008 recession.
Kaur said, at her school in India, there were physical repercussions for bad behavior and bad grades. “In India, teachers [were] allowed to hit you for doing poorly,” Kaur said. “Despite having to work twice as hard as my other classmates, I quickly rose to the top and was always one of the top five students in my grade.”
After a couple of years, she returned to the U.S. By then, her parents had lost their home and filed for bankruptcy. She had forgotten most of her English and struggled in school, but she held herself to a higher standard and put more pressure on herself to do better – just as she had in India.
Eventually, her parents were able to open another restaurant in Fresno – Royal Taj Fine Indian Cuisine – and Kaur said this limited their free time to spend with her. However, they always paid attention to her report card.
“I remember how happy my parents were when I received straight A’s in sixth grade. I would do everything to make them that happy again,” Kaur said. “This is why I have never gotten anything lower than an A in my educational career.”
In middle school she was recognized as an honor student. She graduated from Bullard High School in Fresno as valedictorian, with Principal’s Honors and a number of academic and student involvement achievements.
She then attended Fresno City College, where she volunteered with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability to research Proposition 218- the right to vote on taxes initiative, and create a factsheet for residents. She received her Certificate of Completion for the Law Pathways Program and transferred to Fresno State. She had aspired to be a Bulldog since her older sister took her to the Henry Madden Library when she was in high school.
This year, she was honored as the Undergraduate Dean’s Medalist for the College of Social Sciences at Fresno State.
Kaur interned at the Singh Ahluwalia Immigration Law Firm as a legal Intern and is in the UCLA Law Fellows Program. Since April 2021, after becoming a Legal Assistant, Kaur continues to work with people seeking asylum and immigrant victims of violence within the U.S.
As a future attorney, Kaur hopes to provide the same services and assistance to immigrants and asylum seekers, just as her parents once needed.
“Kaur is an exceptional student. The fact that she met all of these challenges and excelled at every turn speaks volumes of both her abilities and her work ethic,” said Dr. William Skuban, chair of the Department of History at Fresno State. “Furthermore, she earned her B.A. in three years, despite all the challenges of the pandemic.”
Through sheer determination, Kaur thrived at every level of her education while at the same time working long hours to help her parents with their restaurant. She still works there, doing everything from serving to managing the restaurant’s social media.
Perhaps because of her childhood experience of being shuttled halfway around the world and then pulled back again, Kaur developed a wellspring of empathy for people caught between two worlds.
She also works as a legal assistant at a law firm that specializes in helping ease the pain of the immigration experience for those trying to seek asylum in the United States. She assists asylum seekers in many ways, while using her proficiency in Hindi, Punjabi and Spanish.
“Through her efforts she provides a great service to a desperate and needy community in Fresno, and has found inspiration for the future,” Skuban said.
In history, there is never a formula, equation or format. It was and is a story. Kaur said her goal is to make a difference in the Fresno community and to be known as a proud alumna of Fresno State.
“The blood, sweat and tears that my parents shed to build their lives, and that of my own, is not forgotten.”