‘Rhodes Scholar’ claimed she grew up poor and abused — then her story started to unravel


In November 2020, when University of Pennsylvania graduate student Mackenzie Fierceton won the prestigious and highly competitive Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford — one of just 32 scholars selected from a pool of 2,300 applicants — she was praised by the Ivy League school’s president in a newsletter.

“Mackenzie is so deserving of this prestigious
opportunity,” declared President Amy Gutmann of the 23-year-old from suburban St. Louis. “As a first-generation [to go to college] low-income student and a former foster youth, Mackenzie is passionate about championing young people [and] dedicating herself to a life of public service.”

But a few months later, Fierceton had lost her prestigious scholarship and was fighting against accusations that she had been “blatantly dishonest” about her childhood in her Penn and Rhodes applications.

Categorizing herself as a first-generation, low-income student with a history of horrific abuse — who also earned nearly straight A’s and was student body president in high school — Fierceton certainly fit the bill. She was admitted to Penn in 2015 to study political science, then began studying for a clinical master’s degree in social work in 2018.

When Fierceton’s Rhodes Scholarship was announced, the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled the academic star in November 2020, noting that she “grew up poor, cycling through the rocky child welfare system [and] bounced from one foster home to the next.”

As Fierceton said in that story: “I would trade [the Rhodes honor] to have been adopted and have a family.”

But after that Nov. 22, 2020, profile ran, an anonymous accuser sent an email to Penn and the Rhodes Trust, claiming Fierceton’s story was “blatantly dishonest.” The email reportedly alleged that Fierceton grew up in St. Louis, Mo., with her mother, an educated radiologist; that her family was upper-middle class; and that she had attended a fancy private high school and enjoyed such high-end hobbies as horseback riding.

The Post could not confirm when Penn received this email. Fierceton gave statements to her hometown paper directly referencing her attendance at the Whitfield School and thanking several teachers there who had mentored her in an article published Nov. 24, 2020.  

According to the Chronicle, Fierceton lived with her mother, Carrie Morrison — a divorcée and director of breast imaging and mammography at a local hospital — “on a [suburban] tree-lined cul-de-sac with large houses and well-groomed lawns.” 

She attended Whitfield, a $30,000-a-year private school in St. Louis, although the Chronicle does not note how her tuition was paid for or if she received financial aid.


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