Disability does not define super-achieving Tulsa law school graduate
TULSA, Okla. ─ Julie Hildebrand graduated Friday (Dec. 19) with a 3.48 grade point average after only two years at the University of Tulsa law school.
The pretty, 24-year old Jenks resident has already accepted a contingent job offer at Occidental Petroleum in Houston.
Hildebrand is among the brightest graduates – she calls herself a nerd -- but she won’t be the tallest student.
Hildebrand has a rare form of dwarfism called 3M syndrome.
“My disability is part of me, but it’s not who I am,” Hildebrand explained. “If anything, it’s made me stronger. It’s made me learn how to overcome things and adapt very quickly.”
Raised to be self-reliant, she hesitated before contacting the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation for help with law school tuition, a laptop and adaptations for her vehicle.
“There’s no doubt that I would have to work harder without DRS and my Vocational Rehabilitation counselor C. J. Hurlbut,” she said. “He’s provided a lot of emotional support and helped advise me when I wasn’t sure about my path or direction.”
Though Hildebrand worked and supported herself while attending undergraduate school, she credits DRS with helping her finish law school in a shorter time span than would have been possible if she continued to work full time.
“Because of DRS I was also able to choose what I’m going to do for the rest of my life without worrying about having the right money to pay off my student loans.”
“Julie Hildebrand has been a delight to work with and has truly been a model client,” C. J. Hurlbut said. “Not only has she been exceptionally successful, she has never complained about the many challenges she has in day to day life with her small stature. Instead, she takes pride in her ability and determination to overcome those barriers she encounters.”
During her time at TU, Hildebrand completed 17 hours during each spring and fall session. Faculty nominated her to work in the ambassador’s office advising prospective and incoming students about the law school experience.
The first summer, she took six hours focused on European Union law in TU’s unique exchange program in Dublin, Ireland. The next summer, she split time between Shell Oil in Houston and Nichols Brothers in Tulsa, while serving as the student assistant for the Dublin Program. That responsibility included encouraging other students to participate and ensuring that they enjoyed their time in the program.
Hildebrand was equally successful in undergraduate school, earning double bachelor’s of science degrees in international business and economics from Tulsa Community College with the help of a Tulsa Achievers scholarship.
Tulsa Achievers provides up to 100 percent of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors from Tulsa County.
“The thing I try to promote to people is the more education you get, the less your disability is an issue,” she explained.
In the little spare time law school allowed, Hildebrand enjoyed music concerts and time with her fiancé, family and friends.
She is an active member of Little People of America, a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature. Specialists who attended their national conferences were helpful in diagnosing her form of dwarfism.
Hildebrand is confident about her next challenge: passing the Oklahoma bar exam before her relocation to Houston.
“I don’t know where the future will take me, but I do know that I want to learn my trade and perform as strongly as I can,” Hildebrand said. “Really I just want to be happy in whatever I do. I always tell people that when I get older in life, I want to have more laughlines than stress wrinkles.”
The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services annually assists nearly 91,400 Oklahomans with job preparation, employment, education and independent living services as well as the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits.
For more information about DRS’ career preparation and employment services, visit www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-487-4042 to be connected to the nearest office.