Since the mid-2000s, Mindy Kaling has been challenging stereotypes and eliciting laughter in a field that is not well-known for inclusion. Born Vera Mindy Chokalingam in 1979, the Indian American virtuoso has quickly climbed Hollywood’s ladder and found success at the top, helping to break a few barriers along the way.

Kaling may be most recognizable by TV binge-watchers in the streaming era for her breakout role in the U.S. version of The Office, but her substantial impact to the show extended behind the camera, earning her nominations and awards as a member of the show’s creative team and bringing her unique perspective to a medium that has struggled with diversity. Rather than focusing on any victories she may have scored on behalf of the underrepresented in entertainment, Kaling is constantly driven to ask, “what’s next?” Her most recent project, the new Netflix series Never Have I Ever is her answer. Her inspiration stems from her own Ivy League education at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth University, and it has been heralded as a breakthrough for equal representation in media.

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The Cambridge, Massachusetts-native was encouraged to express her creativity from a young age, and her intellectual curiosity led her to Dartmouth in 1998, where she initially pursued classical studies. She was an active participant in university-related arts groups, singing in an acapella group, writing for The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, and creating an original comic for the school’s namesake newspaper. Ultimately, she graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in playwriting, which she utilized to write and produce an off-Broadway play about the friendship of noted New Englanders Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, which garnered praise and attention for the young Dartmouth alumna.

Her career in comedy took some large steps forward from there, between writing for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and performing stand-up, eventually landing her in the writer’s room for Greg Daniels’ adaptation of The Office. She became a breakout star in the supporting role of Kelly Kapoor, while behind the scenes she collaborated within an award-winning writer’s room. When the show drew to a close, Kaling developed her own TV show, The Mindy Project, initially at Fox and later with streaming giant Hulu.

In 2018, Kaling returned to her alma mater to deliver a commencement address, a speech that was equal parts humor and inspiration. Although it skewed closer to a one-woman-comedy, her address concluded with an inspiring message encouraging self-belief and confidence. Mindy Kaling is both happy and reluctant in her role as a groundbreaker, but her greatest aim is to inspire another generation to keep fighting for inclusion until it is the new normal.