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Alum Gurpal Singh: Giving Back to York

A former York College vice president used to say that York College and the fictional TV bar, Cheers have a lot in common.

It’s “'a place,' he said, 'where everybody knows your name;” and Gurpal Singh, Esq., was one of those names. A member of the Class of 2003, Singh, who double majored in English and Political Science with a minor in Statistics,  had a presence that was unmistakable. Politically engaged and creatively inclined, he served York well while a student and now, as an attorney, hopes to engage with York pre-law students in his role as proud alum.

“I served as vice president for York Student government and founded a creative writing club and we published a number of journals, which included the creative works of students, faculty and staff,” said Singh. “I was also part of the first mixed martial arts club.”

Born in Punjab, India, Singh and his family migrated to the United States when he was six years old. The family settled in Queens for a time, but eventually moved to Nooksack, Washington, where he completed high school. But he missed New York and returned to live with an uncle and enrolled at York College where he thrived.

Asked how York prepared him to pursue his degree at CUNY Law and launch his career, Singh reflected on the outstanding professors who influenced him.

“York provided a really balanced blend of rigor and nurture,” he said. “I was lucky to have a few amazing mentors: Dr. Deborah Majerovitz (Psychology), Dr. Shirley Ostholm (Political Science), Dr. James Papa (English), Dr. Linda Grasso (English) and others, who kept me in check while pushing me to achieve at higher levels.”

The comparative intimacy of York College also played a role in the alumnus’ success story.

“The size of York as an institution was just right for someone like me,” said the law practice owner. “My parents were not educated. I was the first person in my family to get a high school education.”

Singh recalled that he “needed more personal guidance than the average student. However, I’m also innately competitive and need to be challenged in order to hit higher gears in my personal performance and York was big and diverse enough to provide those challenges.”

But it wasn’t just the academic rigor and co-curricular involvement that Singh counts for his success. There are even more ways in which York was the perfect fit for his higher education and career goals.

“There was a sense of community,” he explained. “It was like living in a small village in India. The faculty and staff were accessible and caring. I was exposed to countless opportunities to grow academically and personally. At York people get to actually know one another other and therefore we are able to better support each other.”

Busy student as he was, one would think Singh wouldn’t have had time for much else, but he had to make time. Like most York students, he still had to earn a living. He worked for major nonprofits and political organizations, “namely the Working Families Party with whom I worked on Hillary Clinton’s first campaign for U.S. Senate.”

After graduating from York, Singh worked for the New York State Senate in the office of a local senator. His various experiences were quite beneficial in giving him a wider perspective, which is always a plus in the field of law. Graduating from the CUNY School of Law in 2008, he would go on to open his own firm. His experience in a family of immigrants also informed his legal focus too.

“In my third year, I was part of the Immigrant Rights Clinic. I had a lot of family and friends that needed immigration help and therefore had to know my way around immigration law,” said the busy attorney. “My current practice covers Family, Civil, Criminal, Real Estate, Entertainment/Intellectual Property and Immigration law.”

Now he wants to reciprocate his York support. “I would love to take on some York students as interns,” said Singh. “My office is not far from York and I have plenty of space.”

That sits very well with Dr. Robin Harper, York’s Pre-Law advisor.

“I think it's wonderful that our alumni come and reconnect and help the next generation,” said Dr. Harper. “In Political Science and Pre-Law, we are developing connections between alumni and current students aspiring to careers in law. This bond from generation to generation makes a huge difference in helping our current students know what is possible and how to get there.”