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Silver Linings on My Gap Year

By Mackenzie

The silver lining I’ve elected to focus on in the midst of this torrential chaos and uncertainty engendered by COVID-19 is the precious, quality time I’ve been able to spend with my family, as the strict quarantine mandate has thrown a monkey wrench in our pre-pandemic, hectic work schedules. Instead of prioritizing getting ahead in our job or school, our new reality is finding creative ways to bond (watching various TV series on Netflix and Amazon Prime, staying up late to play Taboo, congregating in the kitchen to prepare meals together, etc.) so that we don’t go stir-crazy seeing one another 24/7 within the confines of our home. Inescapable family time not only couldn’t have been experienced at a more opportune moment than in the months immediately preceding my departure for college, but of equal importance, it’s allowed me to realize and appreciate one of the main reasons my Gap Year has been so transformative, enriching, and unforgettable: the close relationships and friendships that I’ve built at every step of this year-long journey. If my naïve 12th-grader self would’ve had even the slightest idea about how much fun she’d soon have sincerely getting to know people from all walks of life while interning at law firms, working on a US Senate political campaign, founding an academic nonprofit called Mack’s School Prep, and volunteering in Costa Rica for 2 months,  she definitely would’ve known what was in her best interest and wouldn’t have been so hesitant about pursuing a Gap Year at first. Apparently, hindsight really is 20/20!

My coworker and I at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP!

Job at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP:

    • During our one-hour lunch breaks together, my co-worker/deskmate Allie would talk to me about her fanatical obsession with all things true crime, which ultimately got me hooked on what is still my favorite podcast: Crime Junkie. Thanks to Allie spurring my own interest in true crime stories, I’ve really enjoyed learning about the cases of people like Adnan Syed, in which the facts don’t present an unequivocal answer regarding whether the suspect is innocent or guilty.


Hanging out at the law firm!

Job at Horne Rota Moos LLP:

    • Catherine, the attorney who helped me secure my job at this law firm, taught me the importance of embracing spontaneity, as planning my future to the “T”, especially when it comes to my education and career goals, means not leaving room for exploration.
    • Terri, my day-to-day supervisor and the office mom, always took advantage of opportunities to impart encouraging words, such as nobody can make me feel inferior without my consent, to me.


Working on Amanda Edwards’ Texas Senate campaign.



Internship on US Senate political campaign:

    • Witnessing Amanda Edwards, the candidate challenging John Cornyn for his seat to represent Texas in the US Senate, gracefully persevere after being denied support and financial assistance time and time again during phone banking really underscored the value of using rejection as fuel to work harder to achieve the goals I set my mind to.

Mack’s School Prep (MSP):

      • When I was working to get MSP in front of students at South Early College High School, Nia and JeTaury, two Class of 2020 seniors with multiple connections to the student body as well as the faculty, generously and graciously offered to use their influence to help me advertise my academic program before I even had a chance to gain my bearings at their campus. Their unwavering selflessness and thoughtfulness without expecting any compensation in return inspired me to continue blessing people with unexpected acts of kindness, no matter how small, because they truly go a long way in terms of uplifting others’ spirits.
Volunteering in Costa Rica.

Volunteering in Costa Rica:

Megan, a New Yorker who became one of my good friends during the trip, has a disease known as Cystic Fibrosis that is medically predicted to result in her having a shorter than normal life expectancy. Megan’s steadfast optimism (in spite of having a grave reason not to) and admirable willingness to take risks, try new things, and get out of her comfort zone without any fear made me want to live each day with no regrets, which is why (in addition to being an adrenaline junkie) I went bungee jumping from a height of 469 feet in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Taylor was a volunteer from Florida who I cherished spending time with because of her contagious aura of love. Her natural ability to retaliate against belligerence with kindness motivated me and others to not permit negativity to steal our joy.


Given that my Gap Year is practically over at this point, it elates me to have had the special opportunity to interact with an eclectic array of incredible people who have provided me food for thought, touched my heart in more ways than one, and opened my eyes to what it means to lead a fulfilling life. And for that, I couldn’t be prouder of my decision to take a Gap Year and more grateful for the immense amount of support I’ve received throughout it! Thank you to all.

On my gap year, part of the magic came from the people I meet.


Mack’s School Prep – Mackenzie

Today, I’m going to tell you about a personal project that I’ve dedicated my Gap Year to: Mack’s School Prep (MSP). MSP is the academic nonprofit I founded in July of this year with the mission of equipping under-resourced and economically disadvantaged high schoolers with all the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools—an extensive roadmap or blueprint if you will—to take advantage of their education. To accomplish this mission, I primarily leverage two media platforms that I developed from scratch: my YouTube Channel called “Mack’s School Prep TV” and my website www.mackschoolprep.com.

On my YouTube Channel, you’ll find videos upon videos that are rich in information and content, as I take pride in exhausting all there is to know about many vital study strategies that even high-achieving students sometimes take for granted: the secret to time management, the key to creating a homework and study schedule, the art of studying and note-taking, the importance of preparation before class, and the trick to navigating the college and scholarship application processes (including how to ace standardized tests like the SAT and ACT). Additionally, supplemental blogs that accompany some of YouTube videos can be found on my website. I believe with every fiber of my being that the students committed to MSP are guaranteed to see an improvement in their academic trajectory as long as they hold up their end of our figurative social contract by implementing the universal principles and techniques that I’m sharing. Although it has taken an immense amount of work on my part for MSP to gain traction these past several months, all my efforts truly have been rewarded. Not only have I received recognition for my work from sources like the Houston Chronicle (read this article I was featured in!), but I’m also filled with an unparalleled feeling of purpose and passion whenever I’m interacting with overlooked and underserved student populations who identify the value in what I’m doing with MSP.


What’s the inspiration for founding MSP, you’re most likely wondering? When I first began high school at Carnegie Vanguard HS as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman at the naive age of 12-years-old, I had no idea what I’d be in for. It unexpectedly took me an entire fourth of the school year to gain my bearings and acclimate to my new environment that was nothing short of rigorous and demanding. However, after a long year of trials and errors in which I had to pull myself up by the bootstraps, I was confident that I had finally mastered what it took to excel both academically and socially at Carnegie. For this reason, the summer before my sophomore year, I was motivated to found an academic achievement club called Swimming Downstream (SDS) that allowed me to invest in the success of future generations of freshmen by contributing a resource that would shorten their learning curve. Admittedly, running SDS for three years gave me the opportunity to be a first-hand witness of the reality that some students begin the race of life with a head start simply due to coming from higher-income backgrounds and having two very involved parents.


What ended up dawning on me was that there are plenty of students in society who aspire to put their best foot forward in the classroom but genuinely need some guidance and direction to help them do so. Out of a desire to do everything in my power to personally address this need, MSP was born because in my heart of hearts, I believe that every individual—regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.—deserves an equal shot at success.

Because I completely understand that no two people start life in the same place, it’s through MSP that I want to be a mentor and support system for the students who are involuntarily born into circumstances that present enormous barriers to their educational and professional goals. It’s through MSP that I want to be a role model for the students who desperately need someone to be a beacon of empowerment and inspiration who gives them the encouragement they need to believe in themselves, identify their internal leaders, and recognize that they and only they hold the key to changing the course of their futures. Since education has the power to even the playing field between those students who get that lucky head start and those students who are behind the eight ball, my outreach efforts to spread the word about MSP have been focused on convincing administrators and students at Title 1 High School campuses in the Houston metropolitan area to join me in my movement for promoting the merit of education so that under-resourced students can break free from the status quo dictating their lives and hindering their success.

Every week since I founded MSP in July has been devoted to producing content for my YouTube Channel and partnering with Title 1 High Schools as well as various education and college readiness programs whose mission statements align with that of MSP. I have been invited to lead academic workshops for students at several campuses and have also gotten many opportunities to give presentations to large audiences of students, parents, and school officials (click here to see a recent speech I gave). While I certainly haven’t been cruising on easy street in my pursuit to get MSP in front of the high schoolers who need it most—as I have encountered my fair share of adults who don’t follow through on their word and who don’t seem to have their students’ best interest at heart—the sizeable amount of rejection I have endured and overcome has only strengthened my perseverance and given me more incentive to be the squeaky wheel and never give up on the people I care about!


Mackenzie – Six Weeks

Six weeks. To students who are on summer break and are dreading their return to the academic grind, a month and a half passes by in the blink of an eye. However, to individuals anxiously awaiting news from their dream job or college, a month and a half can feel like a century. For the record, my 6-week long internship (June 17, 2019 through July 26, 2019) with Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF)—the second largest law firm in the United States—included both of these perceptions of time. Let me tell you why…

I remember the morning of June 17th, my first day on the job, like the back of my hand. Although waking up at 5:45 AM to the aggravating sound of my alarm clock gave me unwanted flashbacks to getting up at the crack of dawn for school, a comforting rush of adrenaline bolted through my veins. My bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self was excited about the opportunity to exercise a new level of independence and to officially be classified as a “working girl”. Admittedly, when I arrived to the office that first day, I stared in awe at the building’s huge rotating doors for at least ten minutes. I keenly observed as women in dresses and men in suits—some on the phone and others clutching coffee and their briefcase—strolled through the entrance with such confidence and sophistication as if they owned the place. It seemed so unbelievable that the adventure before me was my actual reality and not just a dream that I could pinch myself to wake up from.

For the entire duration of my internship, 12 hours per day Monday through Friday were dedicated to my job. Of course, I wasn’t behind my cubicle for all of those hours (you could only find me at my desk for a mere 7.5 hours each day), but I might as well have been because by the time I got home from work around 6:30 pm every evening, I was extremely mentally fatigued. Going to a top tier middle and high school, there’s no denying that I’m callused to the “brain strain” that comes with operating on an average of six hours of rest during the day due to sacrificing sleep for studying, having at least 5 hours of homework to do after already being at school for 8.5 hours, preparing to take assessments in four different classes all on the same day, and only being able to savor Fridays after 4 pm as my sole nights of freedom in which I prevented myself from even looking at my backpack.

However, being a temporary employee with NRF exerted a very foreign wear and tear on me mentally. I’m a hardcore believer in the mantra that the early bird gets the worm, so my five-day workweek was spent rising and shining 15 minutes before 6 AM. This left me with an hour to get dressed and make a DIY breakfast before having to leave my house no later than 6:45 AM. During the 45-minute commute to the Metro Train Station, I’d listen to episodes of my podcast that woke my brain up with stories of true crime. At 7:30 AM, I paid $3 to park my car at the Sam’s Club near the Metro Train Station, and then I caught the train to Downtown Houston. My 30-minute train ride was always painless but nevertheless required that I be alert and on guard at all times. Once dropped off at Main Street Square, I walked about three blocks in my sneakers to the NRF tower and used the 15 minutes before 8:30 AM to store my lunch in my floor’s communal refrigerator, brew a cup of morning joe, and substitute my sneakers for my heels.

From 8:30 AM to 5 PM (save my one-hour lunch break from 12 PM to 1 PM) for six weeks straight, I meticulously filed and scanned documents for the firm’s Human Resources (HR) Department hour after hour. To stimulate my mind with something new, I was occasionally assigned research projects to do for the Recruiting Manager and always looked forward to the once-a-week seminars that served as a chance to both meet up with the other interns who were working on different floors and to learn about topics such as how to prepare for each side of an argument, how to ace an interview, how to become a summer associate at NRF, how to format your resume, and what to expect in law school. When 5 PM struck the clock, I did the reverse of my morning routine: walk a few blocks to the train station, take the train back to the parking lot where my car was, sit in traffic for ages, and finally make it back home after an hour and half of total commute time. After eating my dinner, I was too worn out to do anything else but take my shower and go to bed, only to wake up the next morning to begin the cycle again.

Returning to the point I brought up in the beginning, it was when I was completely engrossed in the menial task of filing and scanning that the minutes seemed to tick by as slowly as molassestrickles down a spoon. Even my boss told me that I got the short end of the stick in comparison to the other interns! But with that said, I never failed to put my best foot forward because even though staring at the same buttons on the scanner and similar-looking PDFs on the computer for hours on end took a toll on both my eyes and stamina, I was dealing with extremely sensitive information that needed to be handled carefully. NRF recently merged with Chadbourne and Parke LLP, and it was important to the entire HR department that certain documents (e.g. history cards, employment applications, signed contracts, etc.) for terminated and active employees from Chadbourne and Parke LLP were scanned into the system and named in a particular way. A required document not being scanned in or a file folder being named incorrectly (even if these mistakes were accidental) would only result in detrimental consequences. Therefore, the responsibility to be on my toes and to not miss a beat—no matter my level of exhaustion—fell on me and only me, so I took my work seriously!

However, when July 26th (my last day on the job) rolled around, my internship with NRF was over before I could even process that it was happening; in the scheme of things, the six weeks of me being a “working girl” was an invaluable, yet ephemeral period of my life. Packing up the decorations on my desk and saying goodbye to my boss, my coworker who occupied the cubicle neighboring mine, and the other interns was very bittersweet. The bitter is a reflection of how sad I was to come to the realization that the incredible relationships I formed would no longer be cultivated by daily, in-person contact. The sweet, on the other hand, is a reflection of how I couldn’t help but feel like a bird leaving the nest, with her newfound independence and security in who she is and what she’s capable of, ready to embrace the next experience that life brings her way!