MacKenzie Palmer, SGS Alum Class of 2014, fell in love with law in Wendy’s seventh-grade social studies class and she’s never looked back. Mock trial was one of the most influential moments in middle school, and she loved returning to SGS throughout college to help students through the culmination project she loved so much. Now, as MacKenzie prepares her law school applications, she looks forward to watching her little sister journey through the SGS experience, too. Check out the latest conversation in our 20 Years, 20 Stories series to celebrate our anniversary!
What was it like to go to Seattle Girls’ School?
It was such an amazing experience. I was really shy and quiet before starting at SGS—speaking to people I didn’t know was terrifying to me. And by the end of middle school, I was able to speak to crowds of hundreds of people without being nervous. I really grew into a leader there, and I think they’re a great place to facilitate that growth.
How did SGS help you with that nervousness?
SGS is really focused on project-based learning. When you’re working on a project and you’re a part of a group that has a common end goal, you can’t really be afraid to talk to your group—you have to work together. It’s less focused on your individual work—you’re learning with other people. So you kind of have to go out of your shell, and you don’t even realize you’re being coaxed out of your shell when you’re doing it.
Are there any moments that stand out to you during your time at SGS?
I always joke with my friends that I peaked in seventh grade. Not a lot of people say that! A lot happened in seventh grade. Wendy Ewbank is a seventh-grade teacher, and she’s amazing. I loved her social studies class so much because it was very focused on government and US history. She would give us hypotheticals that we would solve, like with constitutional law, which is what I’m studying right now, and that class is what sparked that interest. And it all culminated in the mock trial project — one of the reasons I fell in love with law — and now I am applying for law school. That whole year was a really special year for me to look back on, and Wendy was really at the heart of that.
Can you tell us more about the Mock Trial culmination project?
Mock Trial is a two- or three-week project that the seventh graders all participate in. I’ve gone back a couple of years and worked with SGS students to help prepare, and it is fun to watch them doing what I did. Wendy chooses a case that she thinks would be appropriate for that year, and then together we read and analyze each witness statement and compare it to the evidence. Volunteers like myself help students, and other experts, such as attorneys, come in and help the students get a feel for what they do as a prosecutor or a defense attorney—telling students what their job is like so they can get a sense of what an actual career in law would be like.
The actual mock trial is really cool. Wendy has the same judges come back and preside over the hearings that the students lead, and the students are so amazing to watch. When they transition from preparation to the mock trial they go with the flow, and it’s so amazing to watch them think on their feet — they are all so smart.
How would you describe the relationships you made at SGS?
In terms of relationships I made with other students, I stay in touch with those I was closest with, but I also feel like everyone is close at SGS, so I’d say I’m semi-in touch with everyone. Everyone went off and did their own things—they’re all living all over the country and doing drastically different things. Some went to college; others chose not to go to college. Some have families and kids and partners; others are on their own traveling the world. However, I feel like the common thread between all SGS students is that they’re very intentional about what they’re doing. And they’re super passionate about it. That isn’t to say that they know what they want to do for the rest of their life, but they have a clear path ahead and know why they have that path and what makes them happy about it.
I feel like women, in general, aren’t always pushed to do what makes them happy, and sometimes they might just fall into what people expect of them. I feel like that’s not as true about the people I met at SGS—they feel like they have ownership over what they’re doing.
What has your path been after SGS?
After Seattle Girls’ School I went to Franklin High School, and I immediately got involved with mock trial because I loved it so much at SGS. So, if I were to sum up high school—it would be mock trial. It’s where all my friends were and what I was always doing. My senior year we even won nationals! Then I went to college at Seattle University and studied political science. I did debate there, which is similar to mock trial. You can see a common thread—I’m kind of obsessed with the law.
I’ve been working at PCC the grocery store through COVID, and I just actually got a job for a law firm downtown where I’ll be a documents clerk. I’m also researching law schools and taking the LSAT soon. Eventually I would love to do some sort of civil rights law. I want to do something where I’m working with and helping people on the day to day.
Do you have any other plans for the future?
Two things SGS related: I am excited to watch my sister go through this journey at SGS. Through my eyes, she’s so intelligent and amazing—more than anyone I’ve ever known in sixth grade—and I am excited to see where she can go with SGS. I’m also excited to stay involved with the SGS community—however that may look—throughout the years as they grow and change and become even better than they already were five years ago when I was there.
What would you say to parents thinking about applying to send their kids to SGS?
SGS prepares you for real life. If what you want for your child is a college prep like program that just prepares your student for AP classes, that’s not the goal of SGS. Instead, your kid could still struggle with math in high school, but they are going to know how to deal with and overcome that. They’re going to know how to ask for help, and they’re going to be aware of why they are struggling. If you want your child to grow as a person, SGS is where that will happen.
This year is Seattle Girls’ School’s 20th anniversary! What are your hopes for SGS in their next 20 years?
Accessibility is the biggest thing that comes to mind. When I started high school, I had such a leg up compared to my peers. If SGS was more accessible to more students, especially now that it’s moving permanently into the Central District, which is a neighborhood that we need to preserve the history of and not encroach on and what it represents to minority communities, then it can help students of all kinds.