Native American U.Va. Student
Overcomes Poverty, Community Attitudes To Become Lawyer
May 6, 2004 --
Angela Caldwell earned a law degree because people said
she could not.
26, mother of three and a member of the Lumbee Indian
tribe, will earn her degree from the University of Virginia Law
School on May 16. The path to this achievement has been challenging.
rose above poverty and a community riddled with self-destructive
behavior and defeatism to be the first in her family to finish
college and go to law school. The daughter of a career military
man, Caldwell grew up in many places, spending the longest
time in North Carolina, where her family originated.
said of her youth, “I could have had any drug I
wanted. But I chose not to, because I wanted so much more
from drugs, Caldwell had to overcome community attitudes about
are expected to clean up after men and to take care of the kids,
and that is their job,” she said. “On
any given Sunday, if the men come to my mother’s
house to eat, they all sit down at the table and wait
for their wives and the women
to fix their plates. I hated that. It drove me crazy
because I felt like my mind was just as strong as any
that was there. I always felt I had to prove myself to
be something more.”
she was smart in school, Caldwell’s parents encouraged
her to consider college, an option for few in her community.
But “it’s hard to escape circumstances,” Caldwell
said. By the time she was 17, she was married and pregnant.
Since her parents did not approve of her marriage initially,
did not get support from her family at the time.
told me, ‘You’ll never be anything. You’ll
never graduate from college. You’ve taken all that brain
power and wasted it,’” Caldwell
said. “So with me and my husband, with everything working
against us, we have always fought to be better, to be more than
they said we could be.”
a step in that direction, Caldwell earned a high school equivalency
degree, and enrolled in Columbus
State University in Georgia.
At the time, she was
caring for a 1-year-old child and pregnant with her second.
finished her political science degree, with a minor in legal
reasoning, in El Paso, Texas, in 2001.
Caldwell had started out to be a nurse, she realized her talents
were with the law. “The
more law classes I took, the more I realized this is something
I love,” she said. “The only thing I want to
do is be in a court room somewhere, arguing with somebody
sees the law as something than can help her tribe and can be
used to assist people in
making day-to-day decisions.
love reasoning and researching and finding answers,” she
you come with a theory of who is responsible, or the
theory you’re going
to sue under, you have to be able to support it. I
love getting to that point and finding novel ways of getting around things.”
is very good with details, said Daniel R. Ortiz, the John Allan Love Professor
of Law at U.Va., who
taught her civil
procedure. “She has both
feet on the ground and is steady, but buoyant,” he
said. “She has
a quick eye for detail, which is very helpful. There
are times that, if you can’t
master the detail, you’re swallowed up.”
was a good fit for her.
chose to attend the University “because I thought it offered
all the things I was looking for … a good place to
have kids, a collegial atmosphere that was friendly
had her youngest, Macailah, now 16 months old, while a law student.
She did not take time
off from school
School to be
“I’ve been able to bring my kids to any class I’ve needed to
with no problem,” she said. “I’ve always felt my family was
welcome so I didn’t have to exclude myself [from any activity].”
has indeed set the standard for effective multi-tasking,” said
Beverly P. Harmon, assistant dean of student
affairs at the Law School. “She
takes parenting seriously and is often
accompanied by her three children as they make their way to the
bookstore, library or Law School events. Angela’s
children are … very much a part of
has participated in Law School activities, including playing
pro bono legal work. She
is a member of
the Law Christian
Fellowship, a senior editorial board
member for the Journal on Social Policy and the
Law, and communications chairwoman for
Virginia Law Families.
walking the Lawn May 16, Caldwell and her family will move to
start a pro
the law firm
of Hunton & Williams,
and her husband will take his turn
at going to school.
she would love to do legal aid
work “forever,” she knows
she needs to practice law at a private
firm to support her family. Longer
she dreams of becoming a U.S. senator
from North Carolina – a position
she believes would best enable her to help her tribe.
Contact: Matt Kelly, (434) 924-7291