TULALIP – In a historic moment, Michelle Sheldon on April 25 became the first Tulalip tribal member to pass the state bar exam.
She was sworn in at a courtroom in the new Tribal Law and Justice Center where she worked as a court clerk, and is now the newest lawyer in the Tribes’ Office of Reservation Attorney (ORA).
Family members, including parents Greg and Heidi, sister Megan and brother Joe, the Tulalip Board of Directors and court staff were among those who attended the ceremony to show their support.
“We’ve had other people go to law school, but Michelle is the first to pass the bar,” court director Wendy Church said. “I’ve never had any doubt she would excel in her academic goals and now that she’s passed the bar, the sky is the limit.”
Church said Sheldon managed to work full time while completing her law degree, adding, “She serves as a role model to our next generation of students with aspirations of careers in law.”
Sheldon said she is proud and humble that she accomplished her long-term goal to become an attorney, and while professors told her to keep an open mind about where she might practice, “Keeping Tulalip at heart was always at the forefront of my inspiration and goals.”
She told Tulalip News that she lived on the reservation for most of her life, felt an integral part of the community, and wanted to return to work in Tulalip where she could bring her accumulated knowledge and skills back where she could make a difference.
Sheldon said she hopes to inspire young tribal members to pursue their degrees and encourage them to not give up on their journey when the waters get rough.
She earned her associate’s degree from Northwest Indian College, and finished as that year’s valedictorian. She worked full time at her family’s restaurant while pursuing her bachelor’s degree, then went to work for tribal government as a file clerk.
That position led to working with Tribal attorneys, children and the families, and eventually a position as a court clerk, which fueled her interest in the legal field.
She added a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College in Smokey Point, completed a Boston University distance program to gain her paralegal certificate, then pursued her law degree in the evenings at the Seattle University School of Law, eventually being accepted during a period when she had been promoted to ORA Department Manager.