CLEVELAND (Diya TV) — Tuesday night’s festivities of the Republican National Convention were kicked off with a Sikh prayer from vice chairwoman of the California GOP, Harmeet Dhillon. Her invocation was delivered in both English and Punjab.

While it’s a first for the RNC, it’s not the first time the 47-year-old San Francisco lawyer has upended expectations.

Born in Chandigarh, India, she emigrated with her parents first to Wales and then to the Bronx, N.Y. Her father, an orthopedic surgeon, then moved his family to rural North Carolina to a town called Smithfield. Dhillon says she was an awkward, chubby child who didn’t quite fit in at school.

“I had two long braids and a funny name and my mother didn’t dress me in fashionable clothes. I was not popular at all,” she said.

How times have changed — Dhillon now dresses herself exclusively in high-end designer clothing and can always be seen wearing stiletto high heels. Her outfit for Tuesday’s invocation included Escada jacket and a navy-and-gold silk dupatta, or scarf.

While she was unpopular, as a child, Dhillon developed a love for reading and was a strong student. She ultimately skipped two grades. Her family soon became naturalized U.S. citizens and began getting involved in community affairs. Her father, a highly skilled tennis player, joined a local country club and her mother volunteered as a county poll watcher. The entire family supported the Republican Party.

Their politics were driven in part by her father’s contempt for trial lawyers because of medical malpractice lawsuits. However, they were also formed by the politics in India in the 1970s, when a militant insurgence in the state of Punjab led to temple raids and attacks on Sikhs.

Both Dhillon’s parents hosted multiple fundraisers for the Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, a strong conservative with choice views on foreign policy. As he got to know the Dhillons better, Helms began speaking out against the persecution of Sikhs in America and throughout the rest of the world.

Dhillon herself moved on to Dartmouth College, where she majored in classical studies. She got involved in writing for the school’s conservative college paper, the Dartmouth Review, and rose to be named editor. In October 1988, the paper made national headlines after it published a satirical column likening the college president to Adolf Hitler, and the effects of his campus policies to the Holocaust.

The very next issue’s cover featured an illustration that likened the college’s president, who was Jewish, as Hitler.

With the condemnation pouring in, Dhillon denied she was anti-semitic, telling the New York Times critics were “trying to twist the issue to their own ends.”

She said the purpose of the column was to compare “liberal fascism” with other forms of fascism and was not meant to trivialize the Holocaust or to show “callous disregard” for its horrors.

”I’m very disturbed about the response to it,” she said. ”I’m very surprised, very very surprised.”

She eventually moved on to law school in Virginia, worked in New York City and London before settling in San Francisco. She remained a devout Sikh.

“I had a very religious upbringing at home,” said Dhillon, whose first name means “God’s friend” in Punjabi. “That was very central to my life from day one.”

She became active in Bay Area politics after receiving an email to become a volunteer in the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign. Hosting debate parties, ultimately becoming the county party chairwoman the same year. Dhillon ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly in 2008. She met her future husband Sarv during that campaign.

In 2013, she ran for vice chairwoman of the state GOP, and was castigated by fellow Republicans for having once served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Bay Area chapter.

Her involvement in the ACLU came after some Sikhs fell victim to abuse in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Her second husband, a turban-wearing Sikh, was shot in 1995 on a New York City bus after being mistaken for a Hindu.

However, some of the opposition she faced at the state GOP was blatantly racist.

Fliers were soon mailed out, presenting her as the “Taj Mahal Princess,” with rumors of being a goat slaughterer soon following. The leader of a county GOP woman’s group posted on Facebook that Dhillon was a Muslim who would defend beheadings.

Regardless, county GOP party leaders came to her defense, and she ultimately won election.

“As she’s proven, she’s a rising star in the party and she’s also a sharp cookie and highly able,” said Charles Munger Jr., a major GOP donor.

“One has to distinguish, she was elected on her merits,” he added. “She got there in spite of being a woman, in spite of being Sikh. She’s the first woman vice chair in party history. There was no royal road paved for her.”