Class of 2003
Yale University, B.A.
The George Washington University, MBA
When you hear “Grady Mock Trial” what is the first thing that pops in your head?
Gebo! Long nights spent prepping at the Sterling law office. “Salty Morton,” who was the witness I played my junior year. All the Mock Trial seniors I looked up to who were so incredibly smart — Will Smith, Rachel Fletcher, Aaron Johnson, Ashley Hayes.
What is a particular moment or event that you recall from your time on mock trial that is most memorable? It could be a “favorite moment” or a “not-so-favorite” moment.
A not-so-favorite moment was being cross-examined by the Paideia team. A not-so-favorite moment: My character, Salty Morton, was an 80 year-old fisherman and a curmudgeon old man but a key witness in the case. I played the part to a “t”, even making sure to walk incredibly slowly to the witness stand to show my age. I had won the award for best witness at two competitions so far, but Salty had a habit of drinking and the Paideia lawyers used old police records that accused me of public intoxication and bar brawls to completely discredit my testimony. There was nothing I could do. Our team was completely blindsided by the cross.
Have you found that any of your experiences during your time on the Mock Trial Team have had an impact on you? If so, please tell us about that.
I would say that the Grady Mock Trial Team is a self-selected group of some of the school’s brightest, most accomplished, hardest working, and highest potential students. That’s why I joined in the first place! All the older students I looked up to were on the team. In addition, it was the same group of students who had been on the debate team, which I participated in my freshman year, and/or were on the newspaper staff. To be an honor student meant that you were on the Mock Trial team. It also exposed me to some great lawyers and stretched me to analyze and perform a legal case–something I had never done before nor felt really equipped to do. Being able to take on that kind of unknown challenge–and ultimately excel at it–I believe has stayed with me and given me the confidence to take on other challenges.
Other than Mock Trial, how do you recall your time at Grady HS? The classes, classmates and teacher, the other extra-curriculars and non-academic activities?
I loved my time at Grady! I was in the Communications Magnet Program and absolutely loved my classes and, in particular, working on The Southerner newspaper. Grady always felt like a close-knit community. I felt a lot of support from my fellow classmates and really admired the older students in the program. On top of being in the Magnet school, playing soccer allowed me to develop a broader network outside of my classes and get to know more students in other grades. Because I had an older brother who was two years ahead of me who also played soccer, I became close with a lot of his friends (some of whom were also the older siblings of my friends). Bottom line, I felt like I belonged and that I was surrounded by a community of diverse, talented, and dedicated students. Regarding teachers, I loved almost all of them! Mr. Stevens, Ms. Fayyad, Mr. McCurdy, Mr. Winter, Ms. Willoughby, Ms. Bolster–they all cared so much about their students and made learning a really positive experience.
I think what I loved most about my Grady experience was the feeling that I could express myself fully. Grady was always the underdog or the outlier, and small enough that you could swim in a lot of lanes and be all that you wanted to be. We didn’t have defined labels or social classes such as “jock,” “nerd” or “cheerleader”. I felt able to be smart, athletic, a thespian, and social butterfly all at the same time. I feel like high school can be a time when adolescents experience some of their worst years–feelings of self-doubt, of not belonging. In contrast, at Grady I felt the most understood and the most proud/confident of being who I am.
What did you do after graduating from Grady? College, travel, work, etc.
I went to Yale University–following in the footsteps of another former Mock Trial team member and newspaper staff person, Stephanie Hagan (although that wasn’t the reason why I chose Yale). I double majored in Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies–focusing my studies and extra-curricular activities on women’s reproductive health and rights. Interestingly enough, I dedicated a lot of time in college to volunteering in local public schools in New Haven, where Yale is located. I did so because I felt a connection to the urban, majority black/brown public school students that reminded me of the students I knew at Grady.
After college I spent a year working for an AIDS organization in Honduras and then moved to Washington, DC to work as a reproductive rights advocate and policy analyst. I had planned to use the experience as a segue to law school. And I did eventually apply to law school, but for the wrong reasons–because all of the other brilliant, accomplished people I knew had gone to law school. Fortunately I ended up not going to law school but instead to business school at The George Washington University. I just graduated with my MBA in May and will be relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area next week to work for Hewlett-Packard.
In high school I had my first opportunity to study abroad and spent a semester in Salamanca, Spain during my sophomore year. I had always studied Spanish and loved learning about Iberian and Latin American cultures. My experience further instilled this passion and in college I spent six months studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I also conducted independent research for my college thesis. Over the years since high school I have traveled to many countries–primarily in Latin America, including Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico–and plan to continue to make travel and exploring other cultures a big part of my life.
If you went to college or graduate school- please tell us where you went, the degrees you earned, and what you were looking for from your college experience and what you actually took from it?
What I took from college…Mmmm…College was a huge culture shock for me. Not necessarily because I was coming from the South, but because it was the first time that I was exposed to the elite, aristocratic culture of America’s upper crust (not that everyone who goes to Yale is upper class or went to private school, but many students are). I come from an upper middle class, black family but had never before been exposed to such privilege, wealth, or brilliance. It took me a long time to find community at Yale and to feel like I was smart enough to excel academically. It was the first time in my life that I experienced feeling really out of place–not readily accepted by my peers, and disadvantaged by my upbringing and education. I mean, I had graduated from an inner city public high school for goodness sakes!
It took me a while to feel confident again in who I was and my abilities. And I guess I never felt like I quite belonged–that I quite adopted the culture of Yale even though I made some amazing friends there and took some amazing classes in the process. College taught me how to write well and made me a better analytical thinker. It taught me how to effectively formulate and articulate my thoughts and to argue them appropriately. It heightened my political consciousness and for the first time I participated in local activism and politics–for instance, joining with the Graduate Student Union during my freshman year to strike on campus and work to reform the tenure system at Yale.
I think it also forced me to develop strong coping mechanisms. Feeling insecure academically, being far away from home, and finding it hard to feel accepted, I really had to work to focus my energy on those things that made me happy and made me feel positive about myself. Studying abroad in Argentina was a Godsend. It allowed me to explore an entirely different culture and come into my own a lot more than the environment at Yale. I met an incredible group of young women (students who were studying abroad from other universities) and together we traveled across the country and embarked on some of the greatest adventures I’ve ever had in my life. Some of them remain my closest friends and travel buddies. I also dated an Argentinean while I was there.
I guess what I took from college was increased self-efficacy but it didn’t come easy. I really had to work to chart my own course at Yale and position myself to get the most out of a difficult experience, and gain the greatest benefit from it. I participated in–and led–many student clubs, performed in a student theater production, and even had the opportunity to join one of Yale’s oldest secret societies. In addition, I won the award for best thesis in my major. I loved what I studied and it helped formulate my identity as a women’s rights and social justice activist.
If you have finished with your formal education, please let us know what you’ve done since? Career? Family? Social or Political or Community or Religious Involvement?
I worked for five years in DC between college and grad school and developed a career as a state policy strategist. While I started off in an entry-level position at the national non-profit where I was working, over four years I was promoted to lead the organization’s state policy department and worked to advance legislation for sexual health education in states across the country. I helped strategize many policy and advocacy campaigns and from there took a job working as a contractor and public health education campaign coordinator for the National Institutes of Health.
I decided to pursue my MBA in order to pivot my career out of the non-profit and into the private sector. I wanted to gain business acumen and more marketable skills to advance professionally and expand my expertise beyond sexual and reproductive health and rights. I decided to focus in Human Organizational Leadership (HR strategy) and will be joining Hewlett-Packard as an HR Management Associate next month. I will be relocating to Palo Alto, CA for the job.
During my seven years in Washington I have participated in many political demonstrations and advocacy campaigns–both local and national. I have developed a strong group of friends and professional network and met my boyfriend here two years ago. I also turned 30 this past fall, which somehow feels like a big accomplishment. It feels good to be out of my 20s (though they were fun!).
What are some experiences that have helped you get where you are today?
Certainly studying abroad provided unique opportunities for me which have helped me get where I am today. I became fluent in Spanish and also developed a broader perspective of the world by experiencing other cultures. It made me a more well-rounded person and allowed me to take risks that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I also think that taking on leadership roles starting at young age helped me to develop strong interpersonal and project management skills. I gained greater confidence in these roles and it made me qualified for other leadership positions, which led me to take on greater and greater responsibilities. It taught me that I’m capable of managing a lot at once and can develop a vision/goal for an organization and act on it, play to people’s strengths and delegate tasks. Being able to drive results has helped me advance professionally. Finally, going to an Ivy League school has helped me get my foot in the door. I think people are more willing to consider my application for a job when they see Yale on my resume. It comes with certain privileges but also responsibilities. I think people have higher expectations of me because I went to Yale and I try my best not to disappoint them.
Any advice or words of wisdom that you have for current Grady Mock Trial Team Members or more recent alumni?
For high school students I would say do your best. Take your classes seriously, try to participate in as many extra-curricular activities as possible, and start early to think seriously about college. Know that in high school you are building your resume/application for college admissions, so be strategic about the activities you participate in and the classes you take (and the friends you choose). Grady offers so many opportunities to be involved. Take them!
For college students and recent grads I would say that college is a time for exploration and transformation. Stretch yourself to be exposed to new things and take risks in order to grow. If you have the opportunity to go out of state for college I would strongly suggest doing so. It will give you a new perspective. If you have the chance to study abroad TAKE IT. We live in a global world and it’s important to have a global mindset.
Would you be willing to act as a mentor or guide in certain areas? If so, in what areas would you be willing to mentor or guide students or younger alumni?
I would be willing to assist students with college application essays. I doubt I would be very useful as a Mock Trial mentor since I graduated over a decade ago and only participated for one season.
To contact Morgan, please email her at email@example.com or check out her LinkedIn page.