Fifteen years later, before retiring from the U.S. Navy as a chief personnelman, I took the two-year accounting certificate program at U.C. Berkeley to be able to sit for the California CPA board exams. Then while working as a business and planning analyst at the Boeing Company, I went back to school and earned my MBA at Columbia College of Missouri. I decided to cap my business competencies by becoming a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant).

As both a CMA and a CPA at Boeing in Seattle, I did licensing audits on royalty and technology contracts and designed audit programs. My interaction with the lawyers of Fortune 100 companies sparked my interest in a law degree. Because of my heavy travel assignments, I knew a regular law school schedule was impossible. But during a stopover in Detroit on a flight back from an audit in the U.K., I spotted an item about Cooley Law School and its ABA-approved weekend J.D. program.

Then in my first year, my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, dying a month before my final exams; I had to request special accommodation to take them. My father died the following year. Both parents had helped me, a single father, to raise my sons, Andy and Michael. It was a personal struggle.

A year later, my son Michael was diagnosed with brain cancer a month before he was to start law school. My son Andy, who was in law school, and I each took a term break to be with Michael during his final six months. Had he survived, all three of us would be taking the bar exams. Now Andy and I are taking them this year—with all our thoughts dedicated to Michael.

With this perspective, my CMA, and a versatile background, I carried on, planning to do an LLM in tax or corporate business and compliance. I have since been accepted at the UW LLM-Tax program, which I intend to start this fall. I’m currently studying for the July Washington state bar exam.

Through it all, I’ve always been fascinated with money—who isn’t? When I was six, we had lots of fruit trees in our home in provincial Philippines. I would pedal around town with baskets full of avocados and mangoes and make enough money for my snacks the entire school year. Because I don’t like to see people going without, I provided tax assistance to military families and the elderly through the ­Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program during my Navy service.

Once I pass the Washington state bar exam, I vow to continue giving back to my community by providing affordable or pro-bono legal assistance to the disenfranchised. It’s important to use my knowledge to help the elderly, the military, the poor, the LGBQT community, single parents like I am, and students—anyone struggling to be able to afford legal advice and representation to assert their rights.

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