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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Q&A: St. Patrick’s Day Queen Grace O’Connor talks Chicago roots, Wildcat family

Photo courtesy of Grace O’Connor
Grace O’Connor and all four of her brothers are Northwestern Wildcats.

Grace O’Connor (Weinberg ’20) is many things: a corporate lawyer, a JD/MBA holder and a singer, to name a few. And this year, she’ll be the St. Patrick’s Day Queen in Chicago’s annual parade celebrating the Irish tradition.

O’Connor comes from a family of Wildcats. Her brothers — Danny O’Connor (Weinberg ’23), Weinberg senior Liam O’Connor, Weinberg sophomore Owen O’Connor and Brendan O’Connor, a future member of the Class of 2028 — all followed in her footsteps.

Her family may be used to wearing Wildcat purple, but they are perhaps even more comfortable in Irish green. The O’Connor family has had a float in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade for close to 40 years, and Grace O’Connor said she has walked with the float every year of her life.

As queen, O’Connor represents Plumbers Local 130 — the group that dyes the river green — and the parade committee for the entire year. Along with five court members, O’Connor attends local charitable events like the Polar Plunge and the Special Olympics.

O’Connor sat down with The Daily to discuss her role as queen, her Wildcat family, and of course, her love for the Windy City. Read on to learn more.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: What was your favorite part about going to Northwestern?

O’Connor: While I was there, my favorite thing was definitely the Northwestern Undertones, which is one of the collegiate coed acapella groups on campus. … I made the best friends that I could ask for through that group and they are still my best friends today. … I think I only auditioned for a couple groups when I got there, Northwestern undertones being the first, and then when I got a call back, I was just completely floored. I was so excited, and then that excitement just really carried over the four years. Leading up to competitions… that was the most exciting time of college. Those late nights are where you really create the deepest friendships with each other, and you put together this really awesome work product at the end. I rewatch those videos all the time because I’m so proud of them. 

The Daily: Each of your four brothers has gone or is going to Northwestern. What leads your family to keep coming back?

O’Connor: Part of the reason why I wanted to go to Northwestern is because I didn’t really want to watch them grow up without me being there. Being only a few minutes from home, it was nice to be able to have that close connection with them while I was still in college. They visited me plenty of times before they came to the University, but we always let each boy make their own decision when it came to where they wanted to go to school. I just love Northwestern so much, and every one of them afterward loved it so much that it inspired the rest to follow. I’m really proud of that — that they have seen my trajectory and they want to mirror it in some way.

The Daily: Does your Irish heritage play a part in your dedication to the parade and your role as the St. Patrick’s Day Queen?

O’Connor: Definitely. I grew up with a really close connection to my Irish heritage. We celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, but other festivities as well. We’ve sung Irish music together in big crowds of family, and I did Irish dancing from a very young age, so that was always part of family gatherings. Coming from a really large Irish family, you take a lot of pride in being Irish in Chicago. Since I was a very young girl, I’ve seen the Queen represent the community and be this really incredible role model for the people of Chicago, and I always really wanted to be in that role.

The Daily: How does your role as Queen continue beyond the parade?

O’Connor: I get to keep my crown forever, even when I’m not doing official duties. I have also been welcomed into this big group of former queens. It’s a really tight knit family of women who are really passionate about their Irish heritage and dedicated to the city, and I’m really happy that I’m able to join that group after. It’s not just a year-long commitment for all the fun that happens in 2024, it’s really a lifelong connection that you make with all of the former queens.

The Daily: You’ve lived in Chicago your whole life, and now you’re about to be this figurehead that represents the city of Chicago. What do you love most about this city, and what has made you stay?

O’Connor: That’s such a big question, because it would take another 30-minute interview for me to go through all the things I love about Chicago. It’s not just the incredible people that I’ve had with me for my entire life. It’s more about the fact that the community is so welcoming. The community is so focused on finding moments of togetherness, and the parade is one of those big moments, which is why it’s such an honor to be a part of it.

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