Renu Urvashi Sagreiya

Renu Urvashi Sagreiya

Renu Urvashi Sagreiya, Phi Beta Kappa, Agnes Scott College, has a passion for service. In this interview, she talks about the way her childhood in an immigrant family shaped her aspirations and her desire to use her education to build bridges between those who have a voice and those who do not.

After graduating from law school at Drexel University and taking the Pennsylvania Bar Exam in July 2017, Ms. Sagreiya will begin her legal career as a Judicial Law Clerk in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for a judge who handles criminal and family law matters. Upon completion of her clerkship, she hopes to work at a public defender’s office or at Legal Aid.

Tell us a bit about your background.

Every generation of immigrants comes to the United States of America in pursuit of the proverbial “American Dream” and my parents arrived here from India in 1987 to enhance their medical training.  Despite earning medical degrees in their home country, my parents straddled the federal poverty line during our early years in this land of opportunity. We struggled to make ends meet.  

In my early childhood, we moved almost yearly to cities across the Eastern Seaboard.  Nonetheless, we retained our culture wherever we traversed, whether it was celebrating the Hindu holiday of Ganesh Chaturthi or listening attentively to the tales my late Nanaji [maternal grandfather] would tell about living under the British Raj.  Eventually, my family settled in Maple Glen, PA.

My experience as a second-generation Indian American informs my desire to pursue a career in the public interest and fuels my passion for the rights of the marginalized in American society. My parents left India to raise their two children in North America, thousands of miles away from their families and everything they had known. Their myriad hardships and sacrifices have left a lasting impression on me. I am now determined to utilize this education to help other families fully realize the many opportunities available in the United States, regardless of their race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or immigration status.  

After graduating from Agnes Scott in 2010, I worked for City Year, a renowned education non-profit organization founded in Boston in 1988 by Harvard Law School graduates Michael Brown and Alan Khazei. City Year is an AmeriCorps program that unites young people in an intense year of full-time community service focused on addressing the dropout crisis and achievement gap. I served as a tutor and near-peer mentor at the under-performing, under-funded Kensington Business High School.

At Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, you’ve completed 1000+ hours of pro bono service. How would you say your pro bono work has impacted your own view of the legal system?

My passion for law has stemmed from my experiences as an individual living in a world where possessing an underprivileged identity can be seriously limiting to one’s life. I am a disabled woman of color. I feel a strong connection to underprivileged communities because I know that but for my education, I could have been in need of the services I now seek to offer. I have known the pain of being looked down upon by society because of an identity that I did not choose. In my life I have always been grateful to those who have used their privilege to help me, and with my Juris Doctor degree I would like to do the same.

Law is and has been the bridge between those that have a voice and those that do not.  I believe this because I have seen firsthand what it means to live in a world where possessing an underprivileged identity can be seriously limiting to one’s life. Now more than ever, public interest work is needed to address the inequality many people face because of their identity, whether it is their race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, etc. I believe that vigorous, targeted public interest work is an important component to reducing the inequality faced by minority populations, and I hope to contribute to that work through my career.  

You’ve volunteered with various agencies—Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta, Habitat for Humanity, and Best Buddies International, among others. How important is volunteerism for young people and how did it foster your passion for public service?

Service to humanity is a major driving force in my life. As a practicing Buddhist, compassion (or karuna) is a sign of strength and a value I hold dear. The Buddhist is expected not just to feel empathy for others but to be an active participant in helping other people in ending their suffering. Volunteerism and civic engagement are critical for young people. My volunteer work with various agencies during undergrad was intrinsically satisfying and fostered my passion for public service by exposing me to the plight of people less fortunate than myself.  

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?

At the main office at Kensington Business High School, there was a sign that said “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” This line is from prominent Victorian novelist George Eliot.  Viewing that sign gave me a lot of solace during my time at City Year. I think that quote perfectly encapsulates my meandering and unconventional path.  

Who has made the greatest impact on your life and work?

My late maternal grandfather, Dr. Indranath Sobti, has definitely made the greatest impact on my life and work. In the 1950s, he operated a lucrative practice as a physician in Mumbai, India, and many of his patients were film stars of Bollywood’s golden age. However, he later moved to the village of Fatehpur, Rajastan, to assist poor and underserved patients. He was also an intellect and a voracious reader. I greatly miss seeing his kind smile and having long, philosophical conversations with him.  

What advice do you have for others?

My advice is to follow your passion and do what you love for a living. The salary for my first job out of law school will be relatively modest, but what’s more important is that I will wake up each morning excited and energized by the work I do each day. I place a high premium on quality of life and work satisfaction. I seek out employment opportunities that are intellectually and emotionally fulfilling. While there is nothing morally wrong with making a lot of money at a big law firm, I knew from the start that it was not a good fit for me. Former clients from my internships have found me on social media and thank me for making a positive difference in their lives. Those warm and fuzzy moments probably would not occur if I were a corporate lawyer doing mergers and acquisitions!

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