Alumnus of the Month

Q&A with Dolores Sibonga ’73

Dolores Sibonga ’73 is a person of firsts. Sibonga was the first Filipino-American lawyer in Washington State and the first woman of color to be elected to the Seattle City Council.

Sibonga grew up in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District where her parents had a small restaurant. She attended local schools, and earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Washington in 1952. Sibonga then married and had a family. She and her husband edited and published a community newspaper, The Filipino Forum, in the late ‘60s. Her lengthy communications career included writing and producing television documentaries, radio news and trade journals.

Sibonga returned to the UW in 1970 to earn a law degree. Both she and her youngest daughter, Randi Sibonga ’85 began their careers as Public Defender attorneys. Sibonga then went on to become Deputy Director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission. Later, she was appointed to the Seattle City Council then elected to three terms on the Council. Retiring after 12 years, Sibonga returned to law practice for several years at the firm now known as K&L Gates. Sibonga is also currently a Board Member of the King County Board of Appeals.

1. Why did you choose to pursue law after having a fruitful career in communications?

I had a life-changing experience when my young son and I were covering a civil rights demonstration at the airport for our newspaper. I was arrested, jailed, tried and acquitted of criminal trespass. Soon after the trial, my husband learned that CLEO (Council on Legal Education Opportunity) was offering an introductory class for minorities interested in law school. I was successful and accepted by UW Law. After 18 years, I was a student again. The Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a major impact on my family life.

2. You have said, “Family always comes first and then community and then career.” During your career, how did you manage your time and efforts?

Nothing – absolutely nothing – would have been possible without a supportive family. In fact, it was my husband who urged me to go back to school. He and the children managed the household while I studied. Love and respect for each member of the family go a long way toward achieving a balanced life.

3. What lessons learned or words of advice would you care to share, particularly with law students of color?

Pursue your passion, find joy in service, live in the present moment, try not to burn bridges, and network, network, network.

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