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Jeremy MacKenzie’s story is the stuff movies are made of

Written by
Sabina Haskell

March 13, 2019


Jeremy MacKenzie

Jeremy MacKenzie’s higher education journey is the stuff movies are made of. It starts when Jeremy is incarcerated and ends, at least for now, with a George Lucas scholarship to get his graduate degree in film studies.

And, without the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, this tale may never have started.

Without a doubt, the main character’s brilliance and tenacity drive the narrative, but a VSAC Educational Opportunity Center counselor illuminated the path for Jeremy and was there at other critical junctures.

Jeremy MacKenzieJeremy discovered his passion for screenwriting when he was serving a lengthy prison sentence. His talent was noticed, and a connection with a VSAC counselor made.

That EOC counselor, Karen McGovern, helped Jeremy through the process of applying for non-degree grants that he used to take a college class while incarcerated.

“Which was instrumental for preparing me, getting me prepped for developing strong study habits and doing coursework, which I would face later,” Jeremy said.

Motivation and focus are constant themes in Jeremy’s story. After prison, with McGovern’s help, he studied film at Burlington College and took advantage of an exchange program that allowed him to attend one semester at Champlain College at a cost he could afford.

But when that deal ran out, educators again recognized the bright light of Jeremy’s talent and helped him get an audience with the president of Champlain College. That scene closes with Jeremy earning scholarships to finish his bachelor’s degree at Champlain.

There is no intermission after graduation. Jeremy spends that time finishing a film he started in school, one that attracted the support of producer Julie Pacino, daughter of Al Pacino, and helped earn him acceptance at the country’s top film schools.

The filmmaker’s story is certainly one of grit and determination, but it also shows the importance of strong supporting actors: mentors, professors, friends and counselors.

“I came a long way from writing scripts on the back of recycled paper in a prison, and was really grateful for Karen’s help,” Jeremy said.

Initiative attracts champions, Jeremy says. He encourages other nontraditional students to identify their goal and chase it fully. 

“Start to pursue it before other people are supporting you, because the initiative has to start with you and not with anybody else pushing you toward it,” Jeremy said. “Once you’ve identified the goal that you have and started pursuing it on your own, then you’ll find supporters along the way.”

He also says it’s important to draft a plan to reach goals but know the final script won’t look like the first pitch.

Jeremy is himself surprised by the course of his own story. He’s now attending his first year at the University of Southern California as a George Lucas scholar.

“I found that if I make a plan, and I plot out all the steps to achieve my goal, I can almost always achieve the goal that I set out to. But almost never the way I intended. It’s not going to go that way.

“It’s going to meander and then at the end, if you keep following the steps, you’ll find that you’re there.”

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