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MacKenzie Freed: Shines Brighter Than Any Crown She Wears

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With a strong desire to become an attorney who works to combat gender discrimination in the workplace, MacKenzie Freed has already found her passion. The pageant world has propelled her on this journey, and she believes the Miss America Organization is truly a professional development organization for women.

A local Lodi girl, she is a relative latecomer to the pageant world. She dipped her toe in slowly at age 15, when she received a letter announcing an open call to attend an informational meeting for a competition that summer in Northern California.

“I begged and pleaded with my mom to go, and she did a lot research and finally said we could,” she smiled. “They were so nice and answered any questions and concerns we had. I competed with over 100 women and placed in the top ten. I was so out of my league. I bought my first dress at Elizabeth’s Bridal in downtown Lodi, and there was no required talent then. It was a different system than I’m in now, but it was great experience and gave me the chance to introduce myself and my home town, and what I wanted to do when I grew up. This was my first interview, and I wore a two-piece suit with jacket and felt so grown up!”

MacKenzie competed in several competitions before finding the Miss America Organization and diving all the way in with the initial goal of finding scholarships. Her mother was the one who found the information about the Miss America scholarship program and asked her if she would like to go for it. “I didn’t want to do it! I wasn’t confident in my talent at that time as a high school senior at 17. 

“Well, as moms are, she was extremely persistent and convinced me to call the executive director one day after I finished playing a basketball game,” she explained. “I told her I was interested in competing and I didn’t know anything about the organization. I explained I understood it was too late for this year; there was pause and she said I could compete this year if I wanted to!” That year she borrowed a dress from a friend and began reading the news to prepare for her interview. She sang the Adele song “Make You Feel My Love” and won! 

Moving Forward
MacKenzie feels she has come so far from that original talent competition. She became Miss San Joaquin County and was excited to represent her home town and the place that made her who she is. She put her heart into it and called the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses and sports teams to sing national anthems and make any local special presentations since that was her first title representing her hometown.

She credits her father, George, for her self-motivation, in addition to the small-town atmosphere and quaintness of Lodi. “I went to kindergarten with people I went to high school with and graduated with 50 people in 2013 from Jim Elliot Christian High School, and from California Baptist University in 2017. I majored in philosophy and communication studies and graduated summa cum laude with my scholarship winnings of $35,000. I’m the youngest of three. My older brother, Robby, lives in the house we grew up in, and my older sister, Megan, is married and lives in Bakersfield with her husband, Jesse, and their little girl, Francesca Rose,” she explained. 

“My dad is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life. He grew up in a small town, Vallecito, where it was a big deal when they got their first stoplight. There were 300 people in the town. He grew up raising livestock and ended up moving into Lodi to start a job in medical records. He started his own company and my mom, Freddene, was CFO and did all the finances. She is, by far, the most organized person I know.” MacKenzie respects her dad because, with a high school education, he worked hard to achieve success and never wanted to plateau. 

Fitness Focus
She continued her journey, placing 2nd Runner-Up to the title of Miss California in 2017, where she competed as Miss National Orange Show 2017, a preliminary to the Miss California competition. She won the preliminary swimsuit award at Miss California in 2017 and 2018. She acknowledged the Miss America Organization is going in a new direction by doing away with the swimsuit portion of the competition and replacing this phase with live interactions with the judges. 

“I never thought I would be a fitness winner, and I won that award two years in a row. I learned so much about fitness and implementing healthy lifestyle choices; it’s a little bittersweet that it won’t be in the competition any longer,” she noted. “What’s great is, as Miss California, 24-Hour Fitness gave me a statewide membership, so no matter where I travel, I have no excuse not to exercise. Part of living a healthy lifestyle is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I think it’s easy to succumb to sickness when you’re on trains and planes, as most of what I do as full-time Miss California is speak to children and large or
small audiences. 

Success on Stage
The experience of winning Miss California is difficult for her to put into words. She had worked hard for that moment, sacrificed so many things, and having the panel of judges validate how she believed in herself was amazing. She competed with 54 other amazing women, who were also fully capable, she believes, and could have done the job. “It was my fourth time competing, and it took a lot of persistence. I think the dream becomes so big; I knew I was capable, but you have to put in the time and effort. It seems like such a big accomplishment and doesn’t even seem possible!” she exclaimed. “After they announced my name, there was a moment in time I don’t remember, and after it was over and we were talking and taking pictures on stage I said, ‘Hang on, we need to rewind and do it again!’”

Savvy Shields, Miss America 2017, had a mantra MacKenzie has taken as her own. Savvy told her that when it’s your time, it’s your time, and nothing you can do, no mistake, no imperfect answer you have on stage or messed-up talent presentation can change that.

She competed in the Miss America competition September 9, 2018, two months after winning Miss California, and she feels it was an out-of-body experience. She was in the throes of coping with the reality of being Miss California, and she knew she was having the chance so few women have to walk on that stage. “I was talking to Miss Alabama, Callie Walker, recently, and although it happened six months ago, it feels like it was just yesterday. It all happened so quickly. We were floating in the clouds, not grounded, living the experience,” she mused.

Future Representation
MacKenzie travels a good bit; she’s brand ambassador for the American Pistachio Growers association and the state goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She visits the hospitals, attends events and fundraisers, and she also does bedside visits in the hospitals. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals has had a partnership with the Miss America Organization since 2007, raising nearly $17 million for children’s hospitals, medical research and community awareness of children’s health issues. 

MacKenzie plans to attend law school and she’s grateful for the scholarship winnings over the past six years; as of July 2018, she’s proud that she’s debt free from her undergraduate degree, thanks to these scholarships. Why law school? “When I was 13, I shadowed our deputy district attorney, Scott Fichtner, and saw how the district attorney’s office works, visited courtrooms, watched juries and met judges and attorneys. I did that throughout high school and attended the Southern California Trial Lawyers Conference. That was one of those moments when the keynote speaker started talking about previous cases and really validated the direction my life was going,” she continued. “Miss California has prepared me in so many ways, and I wrote my law school admissions essay about how competing in my life has specifically prepared me to work in law. There are so many parallels I can use in the courtroom.”

No Holding Back
She chose gender discrimination as her focus. “I hope to educate women that they should not be held back simply because they don’t think they are capable of something. My younger self would never have had the confidence to compete with 24-year-olds, but if I had thought that way, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. Women should approach anything, like a promotion or raise, with that mentality, that you have so much more behind it to get where you want to go.

“I know that, as a woman, I will have to approach my career differently. We have to know it is up to us, and not hold back,” she reiterated. “A Hewlett Packard report indicates that men apply for a job if they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, and a woman will wait until she has 100 percent of the qualifications. If you don’t try, you will never know. Throw your hat in the ring and give it a try! Anybody who has a dream, regardless of what it is, even if it is a colossal failure, no matter how scary it is—you never know if you don’t try.” 

MacKenzie’s advice is clear. “Become the best version of yourself. I like sharing my experience with the Miss America program because it’s so much more than standing and smiling onstage. Through this organization, I have a pretty impressive resume for being 24 years old. We want to give back and want other women to have these experiences because they are life changing. We should be encouraging all women’s success. I believe if one of us wins, we all win.”

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