Episode 27 Thomas C. Hudnut, Head of School (1987-2013)
In 1987, Thomas C. Hudnut took over as head of Harvard School, then an all-boys former military school in Studio City. 26 years later, Tom retired as President of Harvard-Westlake School, a multigender institution featuring 1,600 students spread over two campuses and commonly regarded as one of the finest independent schools in the country. In this episode, Tom shares his perspective on that journey. When he took over in 1987, was Tom aware of a potential merger between Harvard and Westlake? What were the factors that finally led to the joining of these two proud institutions? Once merged, how did Tom set out to create, in his words, “the independent school equivalent of Stanford,” featuring centers of excellence not just within academics and athletics, but also in areas like journalism and the performing arts? Tom also speaks about his childhood in Rochester, New York, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, attending public schools in Rochester before heading to Choate, Princeton, and the Fletcher School at Tufts. Finally, Tom discusses his long and distinguished career in schools, beginning with St. Albans in Washington D.C., followed by stints running Norwood, Branson, Harvard and Harvard-Westlake, and now as a full-time head of school search consultant. Tom cites Canon Charles S. Martin and John Davis of St. Albans School as a profound educational influences.
Episode 26 Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes
Bill Whitaker is a featured correspondent on CBS’s 60 Minutes, which since its founding in 1968, is widely considered the most successful and venerated news magazine show in the history of broadcast journalism. In this episode, Bill speaks about his long journey to get there, beginning with being raised and educated in the presciently named Media, Pennsylvania. With the help of various educators, Bill’s curiosity for history and storytelling led to a fascinating journalistic career, taking him through newsrooms in San Francisco, Charlotte, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Beijing; but Bill’s keenest insights are saved for his current post in New York on 60 Minutes. What was it like to blow the lid off the opioid epidemic through a 4-episode investigation led by 60 Minutes producer and Harvard-Westlake alumnus Sam Hornblower '97? How did it feel to be at the US Capitol just days after the siege? And how does 60 Minutes inculcate and sustain its unparalleled culture of journalistic excellence? Bill cites Elinor Cadman of Media Elementary School, as well as Robert Huff and Richard Reinitz of Hobart College, as profound educational influences.
Episode 25 Pam Shriver, Tennis Champion and Broadcaster
In 1978, a 16-year old Pam Shriver upset the #1 women's tennis player in the world, Martina Navratilova, to reach the US Open Women's Final. This improbable showing launched a professional tennis career in which Pam would win an Olympic gold medal in 1988, reach #3 in the world in women’s singles, and garner a staggering 22 grand slam doubles titles--20 of them partnering with that same US Open semifinal foe, Martina Navratilova. In this episode, Pam describes growing up a sports lover in Baltimore, MD, Billie Jean King’s inspiring example, Martina Navratilova’s fearlessness and “growth mindset,” and how a championship playing career migrated into a broadcasting career at ESPN, where she covers grand slam tennis today. In addition to Billie Jean King, Pam cites Marty McKibbin of McDonogh School and congresswoman Jane Harman as inspiring life influences.
Episode 24 Beanie Feldstein ’11, Actor
Beanie Feldstein '11, whose acting credits include critically acclaimed films like Lady Bird and Booksmart, in addition Broadway’s Hello Dolly, was nine years old when Ted Walch cast her in Harvard-Westlake's upper school production of The Sound of Music. This led to a lifelong friendship and mentorship that influences every role Beanie inhabits to this day. In this episode, Beanie also speaks about the unwavering support of her family and friends. Firstly, parents who provided grounding and encouragement from the beginning, as well as her older brother, actor Jonah Hill, who became a profound mentor much later in life. Secondly, her Harvard-Westlake classmates, who remain her closest friends and greatest creative inspirations. Beanie tells the moving story of watching her high school prom date, Ben Platt '11, win a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical in 2017--a moment she had foreshadowed years earlier. In addition to Ted Walch of Harvard-Westlake, Beanie references Anne Gesling of the Morgan-Wixson Theatre and film director Greta Gerwig as profound life influences.
Episode 23 Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero, Founders of Mendocino Farms
Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero are the married founders of California restaurant chain Mendocino Farms. In this episode, Ellen and Mario describe the many changes eateries like theirs were forced to undergo over the past year, including migrating a huge percentage of their business “off-premise," which meant leaning heavily into both technological innovation and a defined employee culture and set of core values. Ellen and Mario also discuss their families and backgrounds. Ellen, a Taiwanese immigrant, has roots in manufacturing and management consulting, while Mario is a third-generation northern California agriculturalist. Despite their differences, Ellen and Mario represent a unique partnership, having harnessed their disparate skills to successfully lead Mendocino Farms' evolution from a confined urban gastropub to the thriving suburban family oasis of today. Ellen and Mario cite restaurant industry mentors Tom Simms and Dee Stein, as well as USC professor Steven Lamy, as inspiring life influences.
Episode 22 Jon Wimbish, Head of Middle School
Jon Wimbish is Head of the Middle School at Harvard-Westlake. In this episode, Jon takes us back to March 2020 and the week that changed everything—from on Tuesday, March 10, telling the middle school faculty, “so there’s this thing called Zoom”—to the school’s entire mode of instruction being shifted to Zoom just six days later. What did those days in between look like? How did the school’s unsung heroes, like Mike Grier and Jeff Snapp, enable the school to pivot, on a dime, in such a fundamental way? Jon also speaks about growing up in Huntington Beach; a three-sport athlete at Huntington Beach High, Jon was recruited to Princeton for football before eventually finding his way to volleyball. A constant for Jon, however, was the presence of brilliant English teachers, whom Jon credits as inspiring him toward a career in the same vein. Jon cites Harry Gordon of Huntington Beach High School, Larry Danson of Princeton University, Paul Thomas of Costa Mesa Church of Christ, and most importantly, Mark Wimbish of Narbonne High School, as profound influences.
Chris Jones, or "CJ" to his colleagues, is Head of the Upper School Deans at Harvard-Westlake. In this episode, CJ speaks about how the college admission process changes in a pandemic. For example, how do students choose colleges when they are unable to tour campuses in person? And what impact might “test-optional” policies have on the way applications are evaluated? Is "test-optional" here to stay? CJ also talks about growing up on the south side of Chicago and being the only boy in his neighborhood to attend and graduate from college. Despite losing his father at age seven, CJ cites the many inspiring figures who appeared at critical times throughout his life to guide him in the direction of education. Among them were paternal grandmother Annie Lee Jones, Father Thomas Swade of LINK Unlimited Scholars, Arthur Reliford of St. Ignatius College Prep, and Kevin Brown of Williams College. In turn, CJ has made his life's work becoming that same type of example and guide for others.
Episode 20 Stacey Snider on Leading Major Movie Studios
During her groundbreaking career in entertainment, Stacey Snider became Chair of three major movie studios—Universal (1999-2006), DreamWorks (2006-2014), and 20th Century Fox (2014-2018). In this episode, Stacey shares how attending a Philadelphia-area Quaker school instilled in her a spirit of egalitarianism, which, ironically, helped her to navigate a famously hierarchical industry. In describing her path to leadership, Stacey offers a master class in how to manage power, ego, the creative process, and creative people—so many of them men—where Stacey, often the only woman in the room, had to apply subtle and imaginative strategies to gain respect and then influence. Stacey’s list of mentors is also prodigious, from Marc Platt to Ron Meyer to Barry Diller to Steven Spielberg. Stacey took something from each of them and then applied it the craft of shepherding great films—the most meaningful to her being Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. In addition to her many bosses and mentors in the film industry, Stacey cites educators Mr. Dorrance and Mr. Ely from Friends Central School and Professor Dortmund from the University of Pennsylvania as profound influences.
Episode 19 Ed Hu, Head of External Relations
Over 27 years at Harvard-Westlake, Ed Hu has assumed many roles, from college counseling to advancement to currently as its Head of External Relations. In this episode, Ed speaks about growing up in Bucks County, PA, as the child of Chinese immigrants, and how working in his family restaurant, Hu's Chinese Kitchen, forever impacted Ed's appreciation for the interchangeability of work life and personal life. Ed also discusses Harvard-Westlake's fascinating and evolving relationship with China, how Brown University helped Ed set an entirely new course for his academic and professional life, and how moving to Los Angeles in 1987 empowered Ed to finally “come out,” in his words, as both an Asian American man and a gay man. Ed cites Pam Cressman of Holicong Junior High School and Ted Sizer of Brown University as profound educational influences.
Episode 18 Paul Stanley of KISS
Paul Stanley is the lead singer, guitarist, and co-founder of the legendary rock band KISS, which has sold more than 75 million records worldwide in a career spanning nearly five decades. Even today, Paul still tours the world, wearing his trademark "star child" face makeup, and eight-inch heels -- but that is only part of the story. Born "Stanley Burt Eisen," the child of Jewish immigrants who fled Europe during WWII, Paul was also born without a right ear, leaving him deaf on his right side. The subject of childhood taunting, Paul vowed in his youth to become a rock star, and then did. Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Paul describes the origins of KISS's attitude and aesthetic, his successful and complicated partnership with Gene Simmons, and how the values of work ethic and gratitude have imbued his entire life, both as an artist and a father. Paul cites inspirational artists like Beethoven and Picasso as profound influences on his unlikely journey to stardom.
Episode 17 Beth Slattery, Head of Upper School
Beth Slattery is amid her 17th year at Harvard-Westlake, but first as Head of Upper School. In this episode, Beth speaks about the challenges of starting this new role during a pandemic, including her most profound challenge—how does one identify, from a virtual distance, when a student is struggling? Beth also engages on the topic of gender, discussing both her doctoral research into single-gender schools and the importance of supporting and encouraging girls and women in every context. Beth also describes growing up the child of educators in Brockton, MA, and how her career ambitions migrated from Senate politics to USC admissions to college counseling. Finally, Beth’s advice on parenting, which has been quoted by several guests of The Supporting Cast (including Rick Commons), will leave you inspired. Beth cites Sue Szachowicz of Brockton High School, Jane Hopkins Carey of Georgetown University, and Robin Doran and Joe Allen of USC as life-changing influences.
Episode 16 Robert Horry, 7-Time NBA Champion
During his 16-year NBA career, Robert Horry won a startling 7 NBA championships, more than any other player outside of the 1960s Celtics. In this episode, Robert speaks about the three coaches (Rudy Tomjanovich, Phil Jackson, and Gregg Popovich) who led these championship teams, in addition to the big games and critical plays that earned him the moniker "Big Shot Bob." Robert also speaks about growing up in rural Alabama, discussing some of the racial tensions and segregation around youth sports in Alabama, before playing for the University of Alabama. Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Robert cites Wimp Sanderson of the University of Alabama, in addition to Tree Rollins and Otis Thorpe of the Houston Rockets, as profound teachers and mentors.
Episode 15 Natasha Case ’01, Coolhaus Ice Cream Co-Founder and CEO
Natasha Case '01 is Co-Founder and CEO of Coolhaus Ice Cream, which you may have noticed lining the frozen food section of your local Whole Foods. In this episode, Natasha speaks about being raised by an animator and architect, the multifaceted nature of her Harvard-Westlake experience, building a business at the cross-section of food and architecture, and how unveiling Coolhaus at Coachella in 2009 changed the brand forever. Natasha also speaks about the importance of setting an example as a female and gay entrepreneur, and how opening doors for others like her is central to Coolhaus’s mission. Natasha cites Harvard-Westlake teachers Katherine Holmes-Chuba and Jerry Margolis as profound educational influences.
Episode 14 Spencer Rascoff ’93, Zillow Co-Founder and CEO (2010-2019)
Spencer Rascoff '93 is a serial entrepreneur, from founding Hotwire and Zillow in this 20s and 30s, to his two current ventures, Pacaso Homes and dot.LA. In addition to describing the details of each, Spencer traces many of his entrepreneurial qualities back to Harvard-Westlake, both in the form of a spectacular teacher (HW Chronicle advisor Kathy Neumeyer) and an unimaginable tragedy (the sudden death of brother Justin Rascoff '91). In this episode, Spencer speaks about the community that rallied around him during this difficult time, in addition to the influence of his father's innovative spirit and why he believes the notion of mentorship can be "hacked." Spencer credits Kathy Neumeyer, in addition to numerous other Harvard-Westlake writing teachers, as profound influences on his life and career.
Episode 13 Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield ’86, Excavating the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
As 2021 marks the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, The Supporting Cast welcomes Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield '86, forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida, who is leading the massacre's forensic excavation. In the Season 2 opener, Dr. Stubblefield discusses the complicated efforts to uncover and identify hundreds of Black victims buried in unmarked graves beneath Tulsa, in addition to how the work became personal to her and how it connects to modern-day movements for racial justice. In addition to crediting her parents, who enrolled Phoebe and her sister at Westlake School through the "A Better Chance" (ABC) program, Dr. Stubblefield cites Joannie Parker of Westlake and Phil Walker of UC Santa Barbara as profound influences on her unusual career journey.
Episode 12 Roy Choi, Chef and Restaurateur
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, chef and restaurateur Roy Choi joins The Supporting Cast to discuss its impact on his restaurants, as well as the broader food and beverage industry. Roy also discusses growing up in Los Angeles as a Korean-American immigrant, how watching Emiril Lagasse on television inspired him to pursue cooking, rising the ranks as a "hotel chef" within Hilton Hotels, and partnering with director Jon Favreau on the movie "Chef" and Netflix's "The Chef Show." Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Roy also shares the origin story of Kogi, and how losing his job in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis prompted him to create what Newsweek called "America's first viral eatery." Roy references Lou Jones of The Culinary Institute of America as a profound influence on his life and career.
Episode 11 Sharon Cuseo on College Admission
Upper School Dean Sharon Cuseo is amid her 26th year at Harvard-Westlake, where she counsels students on the college admission process. In this episode, Sharon speaks about her reactions to the Varsity Blues scandal, the “myth of meritocracy” in college admission, and why there is far more "art" than "science" employed in college application evaluation. Sharon also talks about her upbringing in San Diego, meeting Ed Hu as young admission officers at Occidental College, and how a chance work-study job in the Stanford admission office sparked an interest in the profession. Sharon references Bob Litchfield of Patrick Henry High School, Bill Tingley of Stanford University, and Howard Gardner of Harvard Graduate School of Education as profound educational influences.
Episode 10 Mark Hoppus of Blink-182
Mark Hoppus is the singer, bassist, and founding member of the band Blink-182. In this episode, Mark speaks about Blink-182's meteoric rise from the San Diego punk scene to hitting #1 on MTV and watching his dreams come true. Mark also speaks about the thrills and anxieties of touring, approaching one's creativity with humor and heart, co-hosting a television show with Amy Schumer, and why he still loves playing "All The Small Things." Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Mark credits his enormously supportive family, drummer Travis Barker, and producer Jerry Finn as profound influences on his life and career.
Episode 9 Jason Collins ’97, First Openly Gay NBA Player
In 2014, Jason Collins '97 became the first openly gay active athlete in any of the four major team sports. In this episode, Jason talks about why the NBA is ahead of other leagues in terms of advocacy and activism, how the language we use around LGBTQ+ issues has far-ranging impact, and about the courage he summoned in 2013 to come out publicly in a Sports Illustrated cover story. Jason also discusses his years at Harvard-Westlake and Stanford, guarding Shaquille O’Neal, the leadership of Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett, and why he idolizes Martina Navratilova. In addition to crediting his family for their unwavering support, Jason references Westlake and Harvard-Westlake teacher Joannie Parker as a profound educational influence.
Episode 8 Grace Brown on Learning Differences and “Neurodiversity”
Grace Brown believes that learning differences, and the broader notion of “neurodiversity,” should be integral to all teaching and learning at Harvard-Westlake. As the school's first Learning Resource Specialist, Grace has spent the last three years building a Center for Learning at Harvard-Westlake that empowers students to discover their own cognitive differences and chart a new course for academic achievement. In this episode, Grace also describes growing up biracial in Ohio and Michigan, attending Harvard and Columbia, teaching in inner city Chicago, and how Harvard-Westlake became the fifth independent school at which she's created a learning center. Grace references educators Mary Haab of Portage Central High School, David Mitten of Harvard University, and Kim Reid of Teachers College at Columbia University as inspiring influences on her life and career.
Episode 7 Dee Dee Myers, First Female White House Press Secretary
At age 31, Dee Dee Myers became the first female White House Press Secretary of the United States. In this episode, Dee Dee explores notions of truth vs. advocacy, gender and authority, and shares firsthand insights into the unique talent, perseverance, and personal failings of President Bill Clinton. Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Dee Dee describes her own journey from Valencia, CA to the White House Press Room, in addition to her time consulting on NBC's "The West Wing" and as a Warner Bros. executive. Among the inspirational teachers Dee Dee references are Laurie Huenick of Hart High School and Diane Dreher and Eric Hanson of Santa Clara University.
Episode 6 Ted Walch, Theater and Cinema Studies Teacher
Ted Walch is a Harvard-Westlake legend. A teacher for 54 years (30 at Harvard-Westlake), Ted recounts fascinating stories about many of the notable alumni who credit Ted with their success, including Maggie Gyllenhaal '95 and Jake Gyllenhaal '98, the sublimely talented Class of 2011 (featuring Beanie Feldstein '11, Ben Platt '11, Kathryn Gallagher '11, and others), and why Ted considers a 1999 production of King Lear starring Fran Kranz '00 the finest in school history. Ted also describes his upbringing in Sedalia, Missouri, co-directing plays with Paul Newman at Kenyon College, and befriending Tom Hudnut in the early 70's as young teachers at St. Albans. Ted references John Allen of Smith-Cotton High School and Jim Michael of Kenyon College as profound educational influences.
Episode 5 Greg Gonzalez, Director of Financial Aid
Greg Gonzalez believes financial aid should be "brought out of the shadows" at Harvard-Westlake, less stigmatized, and regarded not as "charity," but as a means of attracting and empowering talent. As Director of Financial Aid, Greg is responsible for making sure financial aid dollars extend far beyond tuition, ensuring that every student accesses the totality of the Harvard-Westlake experience, regardless of family resources. In this episode, Greg discusses his upbringing in Montebello, schooling at Columbia University and Columbia Journalism School, and how a career in journalism transitioned to education. Greg references Jim Moran and George Flores of Cantwell-Sacred Heart and Jennifer Friedman of Columbia University as profound educational influences.
Episode 4 Terry Barnum, Head of Athletics
Terry Barnum refers to athletics as the "front porch" of an institution, providing the outside world a glimpse into what type of community Harvard-Westlake aspires to be. As Head of Athletics, Terry speaks to the value of both "elite" and community-oriented sports at Harvard-Westlake, in addition to how athletics can teach lessons and values few other venues can. Terry also discusses his family and upbringing in Chatsworth, CA, as well as his college football career at USC, which included scoring a touchdown in the 1996 Rose Bowl. Terry highlights Alemany educators Jon Mack and Kate Cerruti as profound influences on his life and career, in addition to USC's Dennis Thurman.
Episode 3 Ari Engelberg ’89, Head of Communications and Strategic Initiatives
As Head of Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Ari Engelberg '89 focuses on the question, "What will Harvard-Westlake look like 5, 10, 20 years from now?" In this episode, Ari discusses many of those projects, including the River Park campus, faculty cost of living analyses, and how Harvard-Westlake can better commit to a purpose beyond itself. A co-founder of the internet company Stamps.com, Ari also tells the "origin story" of how the company was born in a computer lab at UCLA Anderson. Ari references two Harvard-Westlake educators, Debbie Reed and Steve Marsden, as profound influences, in addition to a former Michigan congressman named Bart Stupak.
Episode 2 Janine Jones, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Janine Jones is Harvard-Westlake's first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). In this episode, Janine discusses how DEI became an area of focus and increased professional development at Harvard-Westlake, in addition to the challenges of engaging in this work within a community of diverse opinions and perceptions about DEI. Janine makes special mention of her parents, both educators, as profound influences upon her life and work, in addition to the inspiring impact of HBCU's and a community organization called the Worthington Alliance of Black Parents.
Episode 1 Rick Commons, President and Head of School
Rick Commons is amid his seventh year as President and Head of School at Harvard-Westlake. In this inaugural episode of The Supporting Cast, Rick speaks about changes to the upper school schedule and the challenges of recruiting and retaining top faculty in Los Angeles, in addition to his upbringing in Philadelphia and career path in educational leadership. Among the teachers and mentors Rick mentions are a 7th grade teacher named Steve Bonnie and former Harvard-Westlake President Tom Hudnut.