An Interview with Morris Prize Winner Mackenzie Pittman

Applications are now open for the Morris Prize, a $10,000 scholarship awarded annually to one exceptional student graduating from Eastern High School in Kentucky. The Morris Prize is a one-time scholarship that can be used to attend any college or university in Kentucky. It is awarded through the Morris Foundation which promotes the cherished American value that a better life is possible to those who seek it. The prize will be awarded each year to the most outstanding graduating senior of Eastern High School in Kentucky where I graduated as class president in 1999.

Last year, the prize was awarded to Mackenzie Pittman, a Hugh O’Brian Youth Ambassador, who graduated from Eastern High School with a cumulative grade point average of 4.1. She was vice president of the student council, a member of the National Honors Society, and was active in the school’s cheer team, chamber choir, and spirit club. Pittman had been active in her community as a charity volunteer and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by her graduating class. 

I reached out to Mackenzie to see how her college journey has been going and to learn about how the Prize impacted her life. Below is our edited Q&A.  

Nate Morris: Why did you apply for the Morris prize?

Mackenzie Pittman: I applied for the Morris prize scholarship because I wanted to be able to pursue higher education and not have the burden of financial hardship in the future. Along with the obvious financial assistance, I felt like I could relate to Mr. Morris because he, too, was an Eastern High School graduate. Although we obviously graduated years apart, we had many of the same teachers in common and were both part of the student council. Mr. Morris once came and spoke to our class and after hearing his story and recognizing our similarities I knew I had to apply for this amazing opportunity.

NM: How did it feel to be awarded the Morris Prize?

MP: It was surreal.  I can still remember opening the email and being stunned. I was at the park with my friends during the COVID-19 lockdown and was scrolling through my phone. I had been anxiously awaiting any sort of news about the scholarship, whether it was good or bad. When I saw an email with the Nate Morris Prize in the subject line, I quickly opened it and I read it more than 10 times. I couldn't believe it. After reading the email out loud I asked my friends, “Does this mean I actually won the prize?” I was absolutely ecstatic, and I immediately called my entire family. We celebrated that night with a big family dinner. I felt so proud that all of my hard work was being recognized and it certainly lifted our moods during the quarantine. This award impacted my entire outlook on the remainder of the school year and gave me a strong sense of confidence going into college.

NM: What was it like knowing a significant portion of your college tuition would be taken care of?

MP: It honestly felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my back. I could finally focus on the upcoming academic rigors of college without the added anxiety of financial strain. The Morris Prize was one of the first scholarships I received, and I felt it validated all of my sacrifices and the hard work I had put in over the last four years. I had spent months applying for scholarships in hopes of getting my first year of college paid for in full. Once I received the Morris Prize, I felt so excited and proud. It was amazing to know that I could go through my first year of college with my tuition and other expenses completely covered because of the generosity of Nate Morris. 

NM: In your application, you wrote about Maya Angelou. What did her work mean to you?

MP: "I've learned that making a 'living' is not the same thing as making a 'life.'" – Maya Angelou

The words I wrote about her quote still ring true today. Even after being one year removed from high school, I agree even more with Ms. Angelou’s sentiment. I started college thinking that I would pursue a degree that was interesting and financially fruitful. However, after only one semester I refocused my educational track to a major that makes me hopeful and excited. This process has only solidified my feelings about looking at the “Big Picture” and taking it in every day. One should live their life to the fullest and not just strive for money, fame, power, or acceptance. I want to make a “life” by making a difference in the world, serving others, and pursuing career opportunities that allow me to grow as a person. I remain focused on my academic goals, but always make time to love and support my family and friends. I want my career to allow me time to help others, pour into my community, and give to the less fortunate. I also feel that being a life-long learner and staying curious about our world contributes to an abundant life. I feel that truly pursuing a life that is well-lived takes energy, open mindedness, commitment, and effort. We have to be mindful of our liberties and pursue our freedom to travel the world, try new things, spend time with people who encourage you and appreciate the beauty around us. That is what her work has come to mean to me.

NM: What has your first year of college been like?

MP: My first year of college has been extremely untraditional due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love my university and all of the campus activities that I have attended during these unprecedented times. I moved on-campus, joined a sorority, and have made so many good friends in such a small period of time. College has allowed me to learn so much more about things I genuinely enjoy and has also allowed me to pursue many new academic interests.

NM: What are your career ambitions?

MP: I am currently an Accounting major at the University of Louisville. I plan on getting my CPA and then continuing my education by getting an MBA. 

NM: What would you say to this year's Morris Prize applicants?

MP: Show yourself through your application. Remember all the things you have done that have impacted those around you. Be honest, be open and be optimistic. Write about what inspires you. College is going to be incredibly challenging and amazing. I wish you all the best of luck on your scholarship applications this year and your future years of college.

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