Twenty years after Stacey Mitchell’s father received his diploma with Colorado Academy’s very first graduating class, he knew CA was the best school for his daughter. And so she became one of CA’s first legacy children.
“He adores CA,” says Stacey Mitchell ’85 of her father, R. Garrett “Garry” Mitchell ’60. “He thought the school made him a better human being, and that’s why he wanted me to go there.”
When you learn about Stacey Mitchell’s distinguished career, including decades of work as a high-ranking environmental lawyer in Washington, D.C., it may occur to you that, like her father, she began discovering what it means to be a “better human being” at CA.
Fighting crime to save the world
After law school and several years at the New York County District Attorney’s office, Mitchell joined the Environmental Crimes section of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). She spent 16 years there, prosecuting pollution and wildlife crimes nationwide.
She says her day-to-day legal work in New York involved the kind of challenges you might see on Law & Order.
“I love trial and litigation work,” says Mitchell, who ascended to Chief of the section and in 2013 received the DOJ’s John Marshall Award for Providing Legal Advice. “It can be stressful, convincing jurors that your case is righteous, but the practice involves a lot of creativity, which I really enjoy.”
In 2014, she was appointed Deputy General Counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency. While Mitchell says, with a smile, that she never “sat down and chatted” with Barack Obama, it was the 44th U.S. President who appointed her to the position.
She held the esteemed post until 2017, when she joined the international firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP as a partner in its environment and natural resources practice.
“It was a great honor to serve the people of the United States,” she says. “And I enjoy what I’m doing now, as well. I always love new challenges. It’s been a really rewarding career, and I am fortunate to have worked with talented colleagues at every turn.”
The makings of an environmental lawyer
Mitchell doubts it would surprise many of her CA teachers and classmates that she became an attorney.
“I was pretty outspoken in classes and always willing to express my point of view,” says Mitchell, whom the National Law Journal named the 2018 Energy & Environmental Trailblazer.
A natural outdoors lover, Mitchell grew up skiing at Vail and Copper Mountain (the latter which her father helped open). A CA student from Grades 3 through 12, she feels the faculty and the curriculum helped foster the passion for the environment that led to her high-level career. She remembers examining the species and ecosystems at Woody’s Pond and across CA’s campus as part of science class.
“It was always a really positive atmosphere on campus,” she says. “The faculty taught you to find your passion and to follow what you believe in.”
On the last day of Mitchell’s Senior year at CA, John Blossom, her Senior English teacher, wrote on the board a final assignment: “Lead an interested life.”
Mitchell took those words to heart, letting them fuel her passion for environmental preservation and empower her to always strive. Though she has lived far away from CA for many years now, the institution remains an important part of her life.
Connections across years and miles
Not long ago, she and her father had lunch in D.C. with Head of School Dr. Mike Davis, and another CA alumnus. Her father now lives in Annapolis, Md., not far from D.C., so they get to see each other frequently, often on the sidelines of her 10–year–old son’s soccer games, and share memories of their CA days.
She remembers how her dad was always there to see her sporting events in field hockey, lacrosse, and soccer. The father and daughter feel a shared pride in remembering that they were both on the Red Team for Field Day.
“My dad has always been my champion and a sounding board for ideas,” Mitchell says.
Despite her father’s love for the institution—and for his daughter—he didn’t make her live his experience.
“I got my own CA experience,” Mitchell says, “and it’s a fabulous place to have learned and grown.”