Graduating John Marshall Law School student Manpreet Kaur Teji first met U.S. Senator Dick Durbin shortly after the terror attacks in the United States on September 11. Durbin came to Teji’s place of worship, the Gurdwara, to advocate against hate crimes toward the Sikh community. As an 11-year-old at the time, Teji found the senator’s words and act of showing up to interact with her Sikh community to be a source of inspiration and guidance towards a career in serving and advocating for her community.
Teji never forgot Durbin. In 2010 after her sophomore year of college, she landed a prestigious internship with him on Capitol Hill and remained in touch with Durbin’s staff.
Periodically she would find herself crossing paths with the senior senator from Illinois, and his words and acts continued to inspire. After graduating from St. Louis University in 2012, Teji worked as a program associate for the nonprofit advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together where she had the opportunity to meet with Durbin while working on a congressional hearing following a hate crime at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
While interning at the Federal Defender’s office in Illinois as a law student, Teji again crossed paths with Durbin when he supported a commutation petition for a client she was helping. Most recently, in 2016, Durbin was the keynote speaker and awardee at the Asian American Coalition of Chicago where Teji received a Youth Who Excels award for her work with the Asian-American community.
At every interaction, Durbin continued to inspire and guide Teji toward becoming a strong advocate. “He is an important and significant figure in my life,” she said.
So when the opportunity arose to find a commencement speaker, Teji naturally thought of Durbin.
At commencement Teji will have the honor of presenting Durbin with an honorary medallion. “With the impact Senator Durbin has had on my professional career, it is really meaningful for me to participate in the ceremony,” she said.
Teji is one of 251 students graduating from John Marshall in June. While a student at John Marshall, Teji was the Student Bar Association’s representative to the Illinois State Bar Association, president of the South Asian Law Student Association and worked in both the Pro Bono Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic.
A native of Oakbrook, Illinois, Teji plans to pursue a career in public interest law.