Monica Atiyeh Whitaker ’96 is a presiding Administrative Law Judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings for the State of Oregon. The role of her office is to provide an independent and impartial forum for citizens and businesses to dispute state agency action against them. Atiyeh Whitaker’s program area handles regulatory matters. She reviews House and Senate bills for their impact on the group’s work. In making these judgement calls, Atiyeh Whitaker explained that her Webb years have very much informed her work and the determinations she makes daily.
“There is such an emphasis on honor and moral courage at Webb,” said Atiyeh Whitaker, who applies those principles almost every day in her work where she supervises a number of judges, hears cases and analyzes the legality of Oregon State House and Senate bills.
In court, she is often reminded of her teachers and the lessons of her Webb education.
“When I’m hearing cases, I know there are two sides to every story, and I want to be open-minded and fair. I also want to apply the laws, but make sure people are heard and feel listened to,” she explained.
“The faculty are like that at Webb,” she said. “Beyond teaching us in class, they were always encouraging us to have a higher level of compassion for others. That spilled over into how I’ve handled my cases and deal with other people. It’s important for people to feel heard.”
She also emphasizes the lessons of the Honor Cabinet and the Honor Code at Webb: “You can feel compassion, but sometimes you have to make a tough decision.”
Atiyeh Whitaker was 25 when she became an administrative law judge.
“I was a law clerk for the DA and my boss told me about the opening, she said ‘you’ll get this job, you’re good!’”
Atiyeh Whitaker interviewed for the position by phone because of an ice storm and laughs when she thinks about the fact that her interviewers might not have realized how young she was.
Atiyeh Whitaker is still guided by her Webb experience to help her make big decisions.
“Going to Webb was my foundation,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to explain to people who didn’t go there. I hold myself to the standard I held myself to in high school – I’ve carried that through to my professional life.”
In fact, she recently faced a difficult choice in accepting a new position as a Federal Administrative Law Judge – going so far as to travel to Washington, D.C. for interviews.
“When I got the offer, I thought, ‘why would I leave what I love doing?’” she explained. “They were surprised when I declined, especially since it would have involved a pay raise, but it turns out the title doesn’t make me who I am, my upbringing does.” And that includes her experience at Webb, from which her sister Stephanie Atiyeh Carias ’93 also graduated.
Atiyeh Whitaker learned many life lessons at VWS – especially at the Alf Museum. In one example, she went on a long Peccary trip with other students and Museum Director, Dr. Don Lofgren.
“I was 14,” she said, “Dr. Lofgren taught me how to hitch a trailer to a truck! I didn’t cook my own meals at home and in camp, I was meal planning, cooking, even helping to dig vans out of the mud!”
Today, she gives back to the Alf Museum through her service as a member of the museum’s board of trustees, the first Vivian Webb School alumna to do so, citing it as an opportunity to “be part of a world class organization.”
“The school and the museum do a great job of conveying what they stand for as they keep moving forward,” she said.
During her time at Webb, Atiyeh Whitaker was also a Rogers Scholar, and at a 2003 Rogers Scholar dinner, she had the opportunity to thank Col. John Rogers ’59 and his wife June for the opportunities they afforded her. She told them: “When you open minds, you open doors and that is what students have when they have the opportunity to attend a school like Webb. I am profoundly appreciative.”
In her career, and as a wife and busy mother of two, Atiyeh Whitaker said that her Webb education still informs her decision-making processes. As with the decision not to accept a job with the federal government, Atiyeh Whitaker said, “I made the right choice. I wasn’t motivated by ego. I have to stay true to who I am.”