Long-distance dedication: Boeing CPA used frequent-flyer miles to kick-start his commute.

Share story

Talk about a commute: Melchor Matias flew from Seattle to Detroit every weekend to study for his Juris Doctor degree at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, where he graduated in January.

As a CPA at Boeing in Seattle, Matias did licensing audits on royalty and technology contracts, and designed audit programs. His interaction with the lawyers of Fortune 100 companies sparked his interest in earning a law degree.

Because of his heavy travel assignments, a regular law school schedule was out of the question. But during a stopover in Detroit on a flight back from an audit in the United Kingdom, Matias spotted an item about Cooley Law School and its American Bar Association approved juris doctor program on weekends.

“Because of the time difference and nonstop Delta flights between Seattle and DTW, it was a perfect plan,” he says. “Although my employer didn’t cover any tuition and travel, I had miles saved up from prior travels to kick-start my commute.”

Matias would book flights three to six months out each semester, to save costs. He had sufficient hotel points to kick start weekend stays, and car rental points.

“It all boiled down to planning ahead — and all my work-related travel loyalty programs helped,” he says.

He was more than pleased with his experience at the Auburn Hills, Michigan, campus.

“Cooley has the most diverse group of students and the faculty members are very experienced and accommodating,” he says.

Beyond the rigorous legal studies and travel, Matias’s law school years were a personal struggle. In his first year, his mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, dying a month before his finals. He had to request special accommodation to take the exams. His father died the following year. Both parents had helped Matias, a single father, to raise his sons Andy and Michael.

A year later, Michael was diagnosed with brain cancer a month before starting law school. Matias and Andy, who was also in law school, 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 this year,” Matias says. “Now, Andy and I are taking them this year — with all the thoughts and dedication for Michael.

“All these deaths followed one year after the other. It’s such a painful struggle, but life has to go on.”

Matias’s goal is to further his legal studies and continue working in the legal business environment and compliance. He currently is studying for the Washington state bar exam scheduled in July. And he says the University of Washington accepted his application to pursue a Master of Law in Taxation, which he will start this September — quite a bit closer to home.

“I’ve also been teaching at City University of Seattle, on and off for over five years, and would love to be in academia and teach,” he says.

A native of Manila in the Philippines, Matias holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and an MBA from Columbia College of Missouri at the campus in Marysville.

“I’ve always been fascinated with money — who isn’t? When I was 6, 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,” he says.

Matias previously served in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a Chief Personnelman. He traveled far and wide, with posts at Subic Bay in the Philippines, Yokosuka and Sasebo in Japan, and deployments and port visits to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and various places in Europe.

His first Navy assignment was on the USS Sterett, and he named his son Andrew Sterett after that ship. In the United States, he was stationed in San Diego, San Francisco and Port Hueneme in California; Meridian, Mississippi; Florida; and Denver, where he was a recruiter.

During his Navy service, Matias provided tax assistance to military members and their families and the elderly through the volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) program — and once he passes the Washington state bar exam in July, vows to continue giving back to his community by providing affordable and/or pro-bono legal advice and assistance to the disenfranchised, “including but not limited to the elderly, the military, the poor, the LGBTQ community, single parents like me, students and anyone struggling to be able to afford legal advice and representation to assert their rights,” he says.