UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Bhargavi Kannan and Sanya Darakhshan Kishwar grew up in India roughly 1,200 miles apart—Kannan in the southern, cosmopolitan city of Chennai, and Kishwar in Gaya, a holy city in the northeast where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. Kannan attended the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, which enrolls around 3,500 students in various undergraduate and graduate law programs. Kishwar, meanwhile, earned her degree from Central University of South Bihar, which was founded less than 10 years ago and typically enrolls about 50 new law students each year.
Growing up in two different worlds, though in the same country, their academic journeys converged at the conclusion of the 2018 SAARC Moot Court Competition, a prestigious, yearlong tournament that attracts thousands of talented law students from across India and the seven other nations comprising the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). After progressing through national and international team rounds and an individual interview conducted by a panel of legal luminaries, Kannan and Kishwar earned the top individual honor of the competition when they were named the “Best Law Students in India.” In addition to national and international recognition, each winner earned a scholarship to attend the Penn State Law LL.M. Program for the 2018-2019 academic year.
With so many talented students from top universities under consideration, neither student fully expected to win. Kishwar, in particular, assumed the winning students would come from more established schools with greater name recognition. In fact, hers was the first team from Central University to participate in the competition. For both, however, the honor is well deserved and the result of years of hard work and preparation.
“I was on the verge of crying,” Kannan said of the moment she heard her name announced. “I put my heart and soul into this.”
Living and studying in the United States is a new experience for them; Kannan had visited the country before but never stayed long term, while for Kishwar, this is her first time being away from her home, her mom, and the rest of her family. Now nearly a month into the program, they said the transition to a new country has been easier than expected.
“People here don’t judge you,” Kannan said. “You can be a student, a professor, or working at Starbucks and people treat you the same.”
The welcoming environment, they said, has made it easier for them to embrace this opportunity to broaden their intellectual and personal horizons. For its part, Penn State Law is equally enriched by their presence.
"It is an incredible honor to have Sanya and Bhargavi here at Penn State as part of the LL.M. program," said Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs. "Being recognized as the top law students in India is a major accomplishment that speaks to their intelligence and hard work. We are excited to help them take the next step toward their academic and professional goals."
No matter where the next step takes them, Kannan and Kishwar are dedicated to using their legal skills and knowledge to help others—an altruistic disposition that forms the foundation of their personal and professional outlook.
“Both society and law are dynamic, and they depend on each other,” said Kishwar, emphasizing, “In the end, lawyers are there to serve society.”
One of Kannan’s long-term aspirations, for example, includes working to improve social conditions and accessibility for individuals with disabilities. She even suggested to Professor Madhava Menon—chairman of the SAARC competition and whom many consider the “father of modern legal education in India”—that philanthropy should be added as a mandatory component of India’s law school curricula.
Asked whether there is anyone they want to thank for helping them achieve the “top law student” distinction, Kannan and Kishwar began listing names: God, family members, former classmates, moot competition team members, professors; the list goes on. Their gratitude is sincere—a natural extension of their humanitarian nature and a testament to their education, inside and outside the classroom.
Do they have any advice for future law students?
Kannan was quick to answer, “Never give up, no matter what happens.” Kishwar nods her head, adding, “Never let success go to your head; always remain rooted to the ground.”