Kate Pryer, 24, returned to The Mount School to speak with their Sixth Form about her life and career path since leaving the all-girl Quaker school. The classics and law graduate leaves her native York next month for Phoenix, Arizona, for a six-month work placement with defence attorneys helping inmates on death row who have not had a fair trial.
“I hoped to inspire the girls to do something slightly different than what everyone else may be doing,” says Kate, who has always had an interest in human rights and did a lot of work with the school’s Amnesty group while she was at The Mount.
Kate read Classics at Newcastle before taking a law conversion with the University of Law. “A representative from Amicus, the charity I’m going over to work for, came and gave a talk at uni and I knew that this US volunteer placement was something I would really enjoy.
“It’s very easy to criticise our British justice system because of course we live in it and see all of its flaws, such as the London Bridge attacks where having people released early against the judge’s wishes, or in other ways inadvisedly, is ridiculous. But having learned about the American justice system and attended talks by death row defence attorneys, I think we are quite lucky to have a justice system that is relatively fair and not based on race or ethnicity. While we can criticise our justice system, when you look at the American justice system in 2019 there are still alarming statistics showing for instance that you are three times more likely to go to death row if you have killed a white man than a black man. We may see news or tv shows from America and think, ‘Oh, can’t be real; it’s 2019!’ But actually it is still incredibly racially driven. Don’t get me wrong, the British system has its flaws which are quite easy to criticise, but I’d much rather have our justice system, with its flaws, than something like America’s.”
Kate reflected on her time in The Mount’s Senior School and her A Levels. “I studied Classical studies, Latin, Literature and History. I was taught Classics by Mrs McEvoy and was the only pupil in my class. That experience definitely pushed me academically because I had only myself to rely on for the answers, and she was a fantastic teacher. I absolutely loved Classics, had the best time for three years at Newcastle, but I knew I didn’t want to do it as a career. I always knew I wanted to do Law and kind of fell into it.”
The Mount’s Quaker values encourage the girls to live adventurously. “The opportunities The Mount gave me made my UCAS applications stand out. I’ve didn’t have to invent these opportunities, they were sitting here for me at school. The Mount is so good at saying, ‘Well, there are all these different things you can do, and to become a part of these different societies.’ And it was so easy to decide to take on that role or this role. There’s just something about the Mount girls: they are confident, they’re not afraid to say their views, they’re not afraid of what other people might think if, for instance, they give the wrong answer. They have a certain confidence about public speaking. They are free thinkers. For me to move to America for six months, even though I know no-one out there, but I thought, ‘I’ll just do it’: that confidence is something that I’ve definitely, absolutely got from The Mount.”
Kate reflected on how her Phoenix placement came at the right time. “I thought to do it now while I’m young. I’m not tied down by anything, I’ve not got a house, my boyfriend will remain in the UK and we’ll only be apart six months.”
Kate reflected on the impact The Mount has had on her life. “Everyone at uni would tell me, ‘Oh, you’re really confident, you’re good at public speaking and you’re so outgoing,’ and I would think, ‘Not really.’ I’m like this now because when you’re at The Mount, everybody in your year is like that, so you feel it’s very normal that everybody is confident, everyone puts their hand up, everyone is a leader in their own way. At uni, where everyone comes from different schools, that’s when I realised what The Mount has given me.”
“I’ve also just done Everest base camp with another girl who’d also been to an all-girl school. We were part of a mostly male expedition. You have to be quite candid on a 3-week trek. They would tell us, ‘Gosh you are very outspoken for girls, aren’t you?’ and I would think, ‘No. This is normal This is how it’s supposed to be.’ Because we didn’t have boys laughing at girls for putting their hand up in class. And I would notice girls in town from other schools would be in uniform with immaculate hair and a full face of make up. We never wore make up when I was in College; we had no one to impress so make up didn’t matter. We just got on with learning.
“I loved the school traditions, like Morning Meeting and singing the school text. When I tell my friends about it, they say, ‘Oh that’s a bit weird’ but I actually liked the traditions, and even sitting in silence.” Kate reflects, “I couldn’t wait to leave when I was here and now that I’m back I realise it’s such a wholesome school. It’s such a lovely way for a girl to be educated.
“The Mount fully shaped me as a person. I had my ups and downs but I was always felt supported. If I hadn’t come to this school, if the staff weren’t as caring, if the classes were big I’d have so easily been lost in the crowd. I would definitely not have reached my full potential and I would not be who I am today. As cringe as that sounds, it’s true.”
Kate’s passion for a fair system of justice is clear to see, especially as looks at the portraits of the school’s former head mistresses surrounding her and laughs, “Actually it felt like I used to spend a lot of time in this room getting told off.”
Pictured: Kate (right) with The Mount’s Head of Careers, Wendy Thompson, stand before the portrait of a former head mistress.