Boothies of Booth: Grace Zimmerly

Name: Grace Zimmerly

Nicknames: I really don’t have one. Sometimes Gracey. But, I feel like people that call me that have a poor understanding of who I am as a person.

Originated From: Waterford, Pennsylvania.

Undergrad Institution: Yale University

Major: Ethics, Politics & Economics

Job Before Booth: NYPD

okay…now for the good stuff:

Prior To Booth

I grew up in Waterford – a small, poor farm town – population of 1,500. I didn’t know that I was poor, because everyone else was poor too. No one had money.

I loved Rory Gilmore from the Gilmore girls – our stories were so similar. We both grew up with single Moms and ended up going to Yale. But, in Rory’s story, she had an angel investor, her grandmother, who funded her lifestyle and helped her out of problematic situations. I didn’t have that. So, when I got to Yale I was like – what the hell is this?

I worked pretty hard to get to Yale from Waterford. Upon arriving on campus, I immediately realized that there was this whole world of the super rich, and an entire new set of metrics that you could judge your life on like: how many times have you been to Paris or how many times have you gone to Bermuda for a weekend trip. This was not my life. I felt like I was hopefully left behind and didn’t know how to catch up.

I took courses about people that were having a hard time in life, because I was having a hard time. Global justice, conflict and resilience, the justification for killing in medicine and war, the Rwandan genocide.These classes helped me realize how incredibly privileged and lucky I was. I ended up majoring in ethics, politics, and economics and hated all three disciplines for different reasons. Politics wasn’t about the right thing to do – but about what can be done. In ethics they would say the ethically correct thing to do is redistribute the wealth to the mean, and I would argue that we can’t actually do that, so what should we do? It became clear to me that I wanted to serve.  I wanted to act on things, not just think about how to act on them.

I graduated high school in 2009 right after the crash. My dad got laid off from his job at the plastics factory, and my mom was running her pet crematorium that my veterinarian Grandfather bought for her. Yale was one of the first Ivy’s that committed to full need-based financial aid, so I felt guilty for taking classes like these when I probably should’ve taken courses that would get me a high-paying job and let me help out my parents. I had enrolled in a 5-year dual degree program to get a Masters of Public Health degree. But, my financial aid policy didn’t cover my master’s program. So, when I got the bill for my second year of grad school I chose to defer and get a job so that I would be debt-free. My whole life would’ve been totally different if I didn’t go to Yale, but truthfully I was an emotional wreck the majority of it.

Post-grad I moved to a spare room at my Grandma’s in DC. I went to a Yale summer get-together and met Jim Millstein, who was Obama’s Chief Restructuring Officer during the crash and was starting his own investment firm – Millstein & Co. I went up to him, told him that I loved his story and wanted to learn from him. He said I like you and want to help you – I need an office assistant and I’ll pay you a living wage…you can learn and figure out what you want to do. He gave me a chance; I don’t know where I would be it it wasn’t for him.

During that time, I knew that I wanted to move to New York. My senior year of college I interned in Kirsten Gillibrand’s Manhattan office for her state director during Hurricane Sandy. I got to see firsthand how New York City’s government functions. All three levels of government: city, state and federal are intertwined, and each one wants a piece of the city.

I got a job in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office within their gang intelligence unit doing crime strategies focused on gangs in the Lower East Side. I wanted justice to be more personal and more effective by using data. This was my opportunity to impact how justice happens for people in real life. I didn’t realize how intense it would be.

Street gangs in New York are just a ton of immature 14 year olds running around doing dumb shit. But they aren’t bad people. Their crews are the people they grew up with. 14 year olds just want to be cool and popular and girls. The older people that are actually running the gangs are max 25 years old, and are not actually committing the crimes. If you’re gang affiliated and over 25, you’re either in jail or dead. They’re not the ones running around in the street or beefing with other gangs.

So, I’m a 23 year old white girl following kids not much younger than myself. I knew these kids intimately, better than I knew my friends. Following them was like watching a TV show, but I was the only one watching. I knew their whole family, who their best friends were, who they were crushing on.

It’s 2014 and the stop and frisk policy that police saw as a useful tactic is being wound down. Police liked the law because it gave them the opportunity to pull you aside and talk to you. However, there’s a lot of shit you can get arrested for in New York when you’re black or a person of color. For example, you can’t ride bikes on the sidewalk. So, cops arrest the 14 year olds for breaking ridiculous laws or petty crimes over and over again. I was there just long enough to see kids go to Rikers, be stuck there for 6 months, be forced to join a major gang like the Bloods, and then come out a real criminal. It was my job to work closely with the gang unit detectives to set up search warrants and dig into social media to figure out what else we could find and figure out how long we should keep them in for.

It’s now 2016 and the Opioid crisis is quietly starting to rear its ugly head, so I went to work for HITDA (the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) of New York and New Jersey. This was a less, well, less morally complicated job. We want to stop people from dying from drug overdoses. We weren’t trying to   stop people from using drugs, or saying that drugs are bad – we wanted to stop people from dying regardless of what drugs they’re using. It was a dream job, because I got to figure out how to connect all of the agencies that needed to work together like the medical examiners office, corrections, health department, and homeless shelters. I was the law enforcement representative on our team, and my coworkers across these groups were all young women – it was amazing.

At that time, the problem in New York was was that a lot of people were dying, but we didn’t know who they were and why. We didn’t know which drugs people were getting high on if they survived.  It was taking 6 weeks to get drug tox reports. There was uncertainty in what was considered an overdose death. There are differences in classifications when there is a body with a needle in the arm, a body on the couch with a crack pipe next to it, or a mom that used to use heroin but hasn’t used in year. There was a lapse in data in what was on the scene, what the patient’s history was, demographics – we needed to estimate the real numbers of deaths. I created an overdose system that counts deaths in 3 days vs 6 weeks. 

I wanted to be a part of the next big thing happening within a city agency, because there’s always something broken that’s difficult to fix. A lot of the problems that I saw in city government were rooted in inefficiencies, because people never learn how to do things efficiently and talent is pushed to the private sector. Money is managed poorly, data is handled poorly. There are wonderful people working in government that just aren’t getting shit done. This summer I’ll be heading to Mckinsey in New York. It’s a means to an end. I think it is the best place for me to learn a lot / the fastest and have a great experience so I can go back to the city work that I love.

One final thought – I worked with a ton of public servants. The people that I worked with in law enforcement were the best people in the business – morally driven by the right things and at the top of their pyramids for a reason.  Growing up in the rust belt, I’m used to hanging out with older white men – a lot of the cops fit that bill. Not all cops are bad people. The terrible, murderous, racist cops doing heinous acts are not representative of the majority of law enforcement.

Boothie Breakdown

If You Didn’t Have To Work What Would You Do:

I would write.

Do You Think That Aliens Exist?

I think ghosts exist. I do think that there’s life out there somewhere, but I don’t think they look us.

Currently Reading:

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (audio version – do it )

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

What do you think made you unique in the MBA application process?

Gangs and Drugs.

What App Needs To Be Made:

An app that connects people to available and affordable services. Definitely possible to make, but no one will make it because there’s no money in it.

Favorite Disney Movie:


What’s The Hardest Lesson You’ve Learned Thus Far?

Vulnerability can be powerful.

Favorite Booth Memory Thus Far:

Booth Voices. Close follow-up: the OUTreach drag lip sync competition

(Booth Voices is an amazing initiative that gives students a platform to share their stories and learn more about their peers)

Close runner-up for favorite Booth memory — my Follies co-cochairs Saumit and Pato at the 2019 OUTReach Lip Sync drag competition

What Job Would You Be Terrible At :

Being a consultant right out of undergrad. I’m not super careful or detailed and I don’t like making myself do things that I don’t enjoy. I would’ve hated it.

What Age Do You Want To Live Until:

85 – no – 90. If I can live well, why not?

Favorite Place To Eat In Chicago:


If you could live anywhere, where would that be?

Aix-en-Provence, France

Bildungsurlaub Sprachkurs in Frankreich - Französischkurs in ...

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Pet Cremation

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?

  • Go in a hot air balloon
  • Be an extra in an historical drama
  • Go to Australia

What Do You Wish You Knew More About:

American History:  Beyond White People Shit

What Fictional Place Do You Dream Of Going To?


Favorite Commercial:

How Will The World Be Different Post COVID-19?

I really hope that we’re all more connected to each other. I hope this time reminds us to take the initiative to re-connect and maintain our relationships with friends and family.

What Is Worth Splurging On Everytime?

Good wool socks

Favorite Artists:

I love theater! Tom Stoppard is my favorite playwright. In terms of screenwriters, Issa rae and Phoebe Waller Bridge are my favorites.

Early indication of my theatrical nature – Captain Hook in my 5th grade play

How Will You Make Your Life A “Good Life”?

By remaining creative and remembering where I came from.

Most Memorable Gift That You’ve Ever Received?

So as I said, Waterford is really unique and names are passed down through generations and tend to be used to name streets. My high school boyfriend stole road signs named Grace street and Zimmerly Road and gave them to me.

What Lifestyle Changes Are You Trying To Make?

Drink more tea. Talking to people I care about more. Read more non-fiction.

If Magic Was Real, Which Spell Would You Try First?

Un-do. Or, a listening spell so I can be a better listener and not have to un-do.

What Do You Want To Get Out Of B-School?

I wanted to learn finance and get a job in consulting in New York. Wasn’t expecting to pick up a super hot boyfriend, but I’m not complaining.

What Do You Think Makes A Good Friend – How Much Do You Live Up To Your Standards?

A good friend is someone that loves you the way you are, but believes in the person you can be. I think I sometimes don’t apply that with enough self-awareness.

Best Trip Of Your Life Thus Far:

When I was 16 my mom took me to France – it was incredible, and you can’t beat time with mom. (Bonus: this is a photo of my natural hair color). But hard to choose between that and my pre-Booth trip, when I got to tag along with my best friend Mel while she did research for her Master’s thesis in the Balkans. We spent 5 weeks road tripping through Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, (North) Macedonia and Montenegro. I won’t say it was “once-in-a-lifetime” because I hope it happens again.

Who Do You Go Out Of Your Way To Be Nice To?

Old people, I have a real soft spot in my heart for geriatrics.

What Really Makes You Angry?

When you meet someone and you try to make conversation, but they don’t try to reciprocate.

What Industry Do You Think Will Be Revolutionized Soon?

Gynecology, I hope! You should take 13 minutes and listen to this.

What Is Special About The Place You Grew Up?

The continuity, it’s history. Waterford was built before the Revolutionary War. There’s a hilarious facebook group that posts pictures of the city going back to the 1800s.

Favorite Snack:

Tortilla Chips

What Would Your Last Meal Be?

Very Midwestern dinner – Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Ham and Brocolli.

What Is Your Favorite Ice Breaker?

What was your aim screenname?

Did you have a childhood pet? (everyone always wants to talk about their childhood pet)

What Is The Best Way That Someone Can Spend Their Time?

Talking to people. Talking to new people. Talking to old people about new things.

How Would You Describe Your Booth Experience:

There have been times when I felt lonely here, but I think that despite that my Booth experience has been one of connection. I could not believe how much I liked everyone. I feel so grateful that I ended up here. Booth takes chances on people that other top schools won’t. We have an incredible community of people with a common factor of intellectual curiosity and kindness. I was unsure about the whole coming to Chicago thing – but it worked out.

Some of the best Boothies I’ve met  — Justin, Kelly, Kons and Fritz (Grace is the beauty in green)