: Remembering Ted Walch
Beloved Harvard-Westlake teacher, colleague, mentor, and friend Ted Walch died peacefully at his home on September 8, 2022. In Ted's memory, we re-post Season 1, Episode 6, of The Supporting Cast featuring the inimitable Ted Walch.
: Courtney B. Vance, Actor
In the season 3 finale, The Supporting Cast welcomes Tony and Emmy Award winning actor Courtney B. Vance. In this episode, Courtney speaks about growing up in Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s and attending an independent school, Detroit Country Day, before heading to Harvard and then Yale School of Drama. In addition to discussing his career as an actor, Courtney describes many of the broader themes that have impacted both his family and his creativity, such as race, mental health, education, and criminal justice. Among the most noteworthy of Courtney’s roles was playing O.J. Simpson defense attorney Johnny Cochran on FX’s "The People v. O.J. Simpson," for which Courtney won an Emmy in 2016. Courtney describes finding his connection to Cochran through their shared experience of being “the only Black kid at an all-White School” and therefore also sharing, in his mind, both the experiences and skill sets that helped Johnny to understand O.J., and Courtney to understand Johnny. Courtney references George Brown, Kay Slaughter, and Beverly Hannett-Price of Detroit Country Day and Earle Gister and Lloyd Richards of Yale School of Drama as profound educational influences.
: Kate Benton on Theater, Improv, and Middle School
Kate Benton just completed her 27th year at Harvard-Westlake, where she has served as a performing arts faculty member and most recently as Head of the Middle School Deans. In this episode, Kate explains how middle schoolers have adjusted back to “in-person” school academically, mentally, and socially, and how Kate and her colleagues start their advisory work with "listening." Kate also describes her upbringing in New York City as the child of a theater producer and classically trained violinist, which spurred in her a passion for the arts. This carried through to her schooling at Chapin, Dana Hall, and Northwestern, before Kate ventured west to Los Angeles and joining the famed Groundlings improvisation and sketch comedy group where she later served as President. Following an acting career that included appearing on two episodes of Seinfeld (both are discussed), Kate discovered Harvard-Westlake and in 1995 accepted Tom Hudnut’s invitation to begin her career in education. In conclusion, Kate tells one of the most moving stories of the series, relating to the Broadway musical Mame, a fire, her father, and a time when Kate says, "Harvard-Westlake was listening." Kate references her parents, Jeanne Armin of Dana Hall School, Nina Burtchaell of Harvard-Westlake, and actor Phil Hartman as profound life influences.
: Erik Swoope ’10 on a Very Unexpected NFL Career
In the spring of 2014, Erik Swoope '10 laced up his cleats for the first day of rookie camp with the Indianapolis Colts. While the NFL is a rare destination for any aspiring professional athlete, this was especially unusual for Erik. Erik Swoope never played college football, nor high school football, nor youth football--nor had he watched the Super Bowl in more than a decade. Yet somehow, Erik made the practice squad--and then the real squad, spending the next several years catching touchdown passes from Andrew Luck as an NFL tight end. In this episode, Erik tells his story, from growing up in Lake Elsinore and playing AAU basketball, to finding Harvard-Westlake and University of Miami, to then converting his ACC basketball skills to the route-running and pass-catching of the NFL. Through it all, however, Erik has found success by conveying both the inner confidence to pursue new challenges and the humility to seek wisdom and guidance from others. Among the many figures Erik cites as profound mentors are Jon Wimbish and Greg Hilliard of Harvard-Westlake, Jim Larrañaga of University of Miami, and Rob Chudzinski, Jimmy Graham, Jack Doyle, Reggie Wayne, and Andrew Luck of the National Football League.
: Rev. Anne Gardner on Faith at Harvard-Westlake
After 12 years at Phillips Andover, Rev. Anne Gardner joined Harvard-Westlake in 2020 as the school’s chaplain. While prior to Anne’s arrival, Rick Commons had framed the role as an “entrepreneurial chaplaincy,” Anne had no idea how unorthodox it would actually become. Anne spent the first year of the job remote from Los Angeles, and then the second year working with students and adults who were still adjusting psychologically and spiritually to the fear and isolation of a global pandemic. In its aftermath, Anne sees her role as helping community members ask the big questions—such as, “Who am I? How do I decide right from wrong? Whom do I emulate? What gives my life meaning?" In Anne’s case, life was given meaning by two brave and resilient parents—a mother who became a biochemist, and her father a World War II hero and amputee. It was they who inspired Anne’s sense of gratitude and public service, as well as her commitment to a somewhat unlikely career as an ordained minister. Anne admits that as a gay woman, she carries an unusual combination of characteristics for clergy—but that she enjoys leaning into this cognitive dissonance in others, as a way to demonstrate both a common humanity, as well as the many spiritual paths to intellectual and religious leadership. Anne credits both her parents and her Jesuit education as profound influences on her life and career.
: Sabrina Singh ’05 on White House Communications
Sabrina Singh '05 is Deputy Press Secretary to Vice President Kamala Harris. In this episode, Sabrina speaks about the heightened stakes of White House communications, the delicate balance between policy precision and personal authenticity in political speech, and how the Harris and Biden press teams collaborate as a unified administration. Sabrina also describes both her past—growing up in Los Angeles and attending Harvard-Westlake and USC—as well as her future, as she prepares for a new role at the Pentagon as Director of Integrated Campaigns for the Department of Defense. Lastly, while the conversation avoids discussing the policies of the Biden-Harris administration, Sabrina speaks about how meaningful it is, particularly as an Indian American woman, for her to work for the first woman and first Indian American to serve as Vice President. As Sabrina notes, Kamala Harris “looks like me.” Sabrina references Jane Dabel and Bob Pavitch of Harvard-Westlake, Douglas Becker and Todd Boyd of USC, Jesse Ferguson and Jennifer Krider of the DCCC, and United States Senator Cory Booker as profound influences on her life and career.
: John Gatins on Screenwriting
John Gatins is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. In this episode, John speaks about initially coming to Hollywood to be an actor, before landing a chance opportunity to re-write a high school football movie called Varsity Blues in 1999. The film's success launched a screenwriting career that would place John as one of the most sought-after “script doctors” in Hollywood, working on films ranging from Behind Enemy Lines to Power Rangers to the forthcoming Aladdin 2. But it also enabled John to champion his passion project—a complex character study about an alcoholic commercial airline pilot called Flight, starring Denzel Washington, which garnered John an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 2013. John also describes growing up in New York, and how his mother landing a job in the advancement office at Vassar College changed the trajectory of his life. Due to Vassar providing tuition assistance to the admitted children of Vassar staff, John and his siblings were able to access a college experience they could never have afforded otherwise. John and his wife Ling, whom he met at Vassar and was also a financial aid recipient, credit Vassar with inspiring them to become Parent Chairs of Annual Giving at Harvard-Westlake—aiming to provide at Harvard-Westlake the same type of transformational educational opportunities that had been afforded to them in college. John references Pat Vrett of Arlington High School (NY), Elizabeth Socolow of Vassar College, and filmmaker Robert Zemeckis as profound life influences.
: Jocelyn Medawar on Teaching and Laughter
Jocelyn Medawar has taught English at Harvard-Westlake for more than 30 years. In this episode, Jocelyn speaks about the magic of finally teaching “in-person” again, how to build a community of both levity and trust within her classroom, and also the art of assembling an effective college recommendation letter. Jocelyn also speaks about growing up in Los Angeles and commuting across town to Immaculate Heart High School, before attending Stanford and then joining the Westlake faculty one year before the Harvard-Westlake merger. Jocelyn expresses profound gratitude for her decades of service to HW, not only for the joy and amusement she experiences with students, but also the support she has felt in times of tragedy, including after the death of her late husband Dan in 2013. Jocelyn references Immaculate Heart teachers Carmen Hill, Marian Sharples, and Tony Bruzzese as profound life influences.
: Kimberly West-Faulcon on Constitutional Law
Constitutional law professor Kimberly West-Faulcon is the 2022 Kutler Center Scholar in Residence at Harvard-Westlake. In this episode, Kimberly speaks about constitutional interpretation, including what she describes as more contemporary notions of "originalism" and their application to the Second Amendment. Kimberly’s previous research and practice relate to education, including "ability grouping and tracking," as well as standardized testing. While Kimberly admits that both were quite beneficial to her own educational outcomes, including earning a full scholarship to Duke University before attending Yale Law School, she also describes how these tools can reinforce both socioeconomic inequality and inaccurate conclusions about human intelligence. Kimberly also describes growing up in North Carolina as the child of educators and public servants, and finding inspiration in the mentorship of Duke professor David Paletz, as well as social justice pioneers like Constance Baker Motley, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Thurgood Marshall. Kimberly takes all of their lessons into the classroom today as the James P. Bradley Professor in Constitutional Law at Loyola Law School.
: Wolfgang Puck, Chef and Restaurateur
Wolfgang Puck is a world-renowned chef and restaurateur. In this episode, Wolfgang speaks about the teenage restaurant apprenticeship that changed his life, at L'Oustau de Baumanière in the South of France. It was during this era where Wolfgang also met the late Sidney Poitier, who not only inspired Wolfgang as an actor, but whose friendship evolved into Sidney becoming the godfather to two of Wolfgang’s boys. Wolfgang also shares his unique perspective on food and hospitality. To this day, Wolfgang spends mornings at the fish market personally choosing seafood, and evenings at his various restaurants around the world personally greeting guests table by table. On a more pedestrian level, Wolfgang also instructs Eli on how to properly prepare a scrambled egg. Wolfgang references Raymond Thuilier at L'Oustau de Baumanière and actor Sidney Poitier as profound life influences.
: Dr. Mark Krieger on Kids and Covid-19
Dr. Mark Krieger is Surgeon-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), where for the past two years he has helped to lead complex conversations and address critical questions about Covid-19 and its risk to kids. As the Omicron surge (hopefully) nears its end in Los Angeles, many of these difficult questions remain top-of-of mind for educators and parents alike. Dr. Krieger also speaks about CHLA's culture and service to Los Angeles, its contributions to transformational evolutions within pediatric brain surgery (Mark's specialty), and how becoming a parent has impacted Mark both as a physician and person. Dr. Krieger also describes his upbringing in Massapequa, Long Island, where he attended public schools before studying philosophy and neuroscience at Harvard and then neurosurgery at Columbia Medical School. Mark references Dr. Stanley Gensler, as well as his family and various educational programs, as profound influences on his life and career.
: Chan Ho Park, Former Dodger Pitcher and Korean Baseball Legend
In the season two finale, The Supporting Cast welcomes former Dodger pitcher Chan Ho Park, who was the first Korean-born player and winningest Asian-born pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. In this episode, Chan Ho speaks about growing up in Gongju, South Korea, and initially playing third base before an encouraging coach convinced him to be a pitcher if he could build "strong legs, and a brave heart." Chan Ho rose to the challenge by sprinting the hills of his childhood street and overcoming the fear of a dark cemetery near his childhood home—a street that is now called "Chan Ho Park Road" and the home now a museum in Chan Ho's honor. Chan Ho also describes first visiting Dodger Stadium in 1992 and despite sitting in the nose bleeds, becoming immediately spellbound by the excitement of the crowd and dreaming he could someday play on that field. Chan Ho had no idea that a little more than two years later, his improbable dream would come true, launching a 17-year Major League career. Chan Ho references childhood coach YoungSae Oh, Dodger owner Peter O'Malley, and Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda as profound life influences.
: Dulé Hill, Actor
Actor Dulé Hill is best known for playing Detective "Gus" Guster on the USA series Psych and Charlie Young, personal aid to President Jed Bartlett, on NBC’s The West Wing. In this episode, Dulé speaks about growing up in Sayreville, NJ, as the son of Jamaican immigrants, and how exposure to ballet and tap by age 3 set Dulé on a path to starring on Broadway in The Tap Dance Kid at age 10 and the Tony Award-winning Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk while a college student at Seton Hall. Following a successful Broadway run, Dulé moved to Los Angeles to pursue screen acting, but initially struggled to find consistent work and was subsequently dropped by his talent agency. Drawing on the inspiration of educators and mentors, Dulé recommitted himself to acting and fortuitously landed an audition for The West Wing, which changed his life. Dulé cites educators and mentors Dr. Ibrahim Abdul-Malick, William Esper, Savion Glover, and Martin Sheen as profound life influences.
: Juliette Kayyem ’87 on Risk Reduction and a New Path Forward from COVID-19
Juliette Kayyem '87 is a CNN National Security Analyst, Harvard Kennedy School professor, Atlantic columnist, and expert in the field of emergency preparedness, consequence management, and risk reduction. As it happens, Juliette joins The Supporting Cast on the day the CDC lifted its indoor and outdoor mask mandate for vaccinated people. For this reason, Juliette was both limited in her time, but also focused on the subject at hand—risk reduction and a new path forward from COVID-19. As a former Department of Homeland Security official in the Obama administration, Juliette has been applying the lessons of counterterrorism in advising mayors, governors, and private-sector leaders on their responses to COVID-19 and strategies to increase vaccination. Juliette also describes growing up in Los Angeles and attending Westlake School for Girls, Harvard College, and Harvard Law School, before a career that evolved from law to academia to journalism to public service. Juliette references many Westlake teachers, including Joannie Parker, King Schofield, Leni Wildflower, and Francine '68 & Walt Werner, as profound educational influences.
: Randy Schoenberg ’84 on the Real “Woman in Gold”
In the 2015 film “Woman in Gold,” Ryan Reynolds plays Randy Schoenberg, a 30-something lawyer who takes up the case of a family friend named Maria Altmann, played by Helen Mirren, who is trying to retrieve a painting from Austria that had belonged to her family as a child before it was stolen by Nazis in World War II. While such a matter would not typically receive the attention of Hollywood, this was no ordinary case and no ordinary painting. Authored by the world-famous Gustav Klimt, the painting, known as the “Woman in Gold,” was by the late 1990s regarded as the "Mona Lisa" of Austria. Against all odds, Randy opted to sue the Republic of Austria, citing a little known exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which earned the case international attention, eventually making its way to the United States Supreme Court, where Randy argued the landmark case and won. In this episode, the real Randy Schoenberg '84 tells his story. A native of Los Angeles, Randy attended Harvard School, Princeton University, and USC Law, citing the role of various educators in preparing Randy for his moment on the world stage. Randy references Lee Carlson '50 and James Lander of Harvard School, in addition to Erwin Chemerinsky and Edwin "Rip" Smith of USC Law, as profound educational influences.
: Laura Ross, Associate Head of School
Laura Ross is the Associate Head of School at Harvard-Westlake. In this episode, Laura speaks about helping to lead the school through a pandemic, and what it feels like now to watch students and teachers re-enter physical spaces and experience newfound gratitude for the Harvard-Westlake community. Laura also speaks about her upbringing in Santa Barbara, CA, where she attended Crane Country Day, Santa Barbara Middle School, and Santa Barbara High School, all of which greatly influencing how Laura considers schools as families, start-ups, and multifaceted ecosystems where students should be given both the trust and space to find their identities and passions. Laura also describes her long and varied career in schools, from working in college admission at Stanford, Scripps, and Columbia, to her independent school work at Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco, St. Stephens Episcopal in Austin, and Greenhill in Dallas, before arriving at Harvard-Westlake in 2017 to run the upper school. Laura cites Rob Rosenthal of Wesleyan University and Jim Montoya of Stanford University as profound educational influences.
: D. B. Weiss, Co-Creator of Game of Thrones
D. B. (Dan) Weiss is co-creator of HBO's Game of Thrones. In this episode, Dan speaks about how Game of Thrones came to be. First, how he and co-creator David Benioff read "A Song of Ice and Fire" and believed they understood how to adapt this complex narrative to the screen. Second, how they convinced author George R. R. Martin and HBO that he and David, who had never run a television series before, had the vision to helm this massive production. Third, finally shooting the pilot, which famously had to be almost entirely re-shot due to flaws in the narrative. But despite it all—Game of Thrones became a worldwide culture phenomenon, with more than 32 million viewers per episode across all platforms by its seventh season. Dan also talks about growing up outside Chicago, attending Wesleyan University and other writing programs, and the profound impact of teachers in encouraging his writing from a young age. Dan aimed to convey this same approach show-running Game of Thrones, keeping clear channels of communication across multiple countries and production teams, recognizing and nurturing talent, and knowing when to suppress ego for the good of the enterprise—a value that he and David Benioff share. Dan credits Winnie Engerman of Highland Park High School and Kit Reed of Wesleyan University as life-changing educational influences.
: Aaron Mieszczanski, Director of Admission
Aaron Mieszczanski is Director of Admission at Harvard-Westlake School. In this episode, Aaron speaks about his unique year in admission, both the challenge of not being able to welcome families to campus physically, but also the benefits of creating broader points of access through virtual engagement. In describing Harvard-Westlake’s approach in evaluating applicants, Aaron is quick to point out that there isn’t just one type of student that stands out in a Harvard-Westlake pool. “We seek cultural adds, not cultural fits,” explains Aaron, which this year means welcoming students from 175 zip codes and 250 sending schools across Southern California. Aaron points out how this is made possible by the indispensability of financial aid, which not only enables greater access and diversity, but maximizes the school’s excellence. Aaron also speaks about growing up in The Bronx in a family of educators—attending Fieldston, Williams College, and receiving his Masters at Penn—and progressing through admission roles at The Thacher School in Ojai and University High School in San Francisco, before arriving at Harvard-Westlake in 2018. Aaron cites educators Kelvina Butcher of Ethical Culture Fieldston School and Bill McMahon of The Thacher School as profound life influences.
: Gray Davis ’60, 37th Governor of California
Gray Davis '60 was the 37th Governor of the State of California. In this episode, Governor Davis speaks about growing up in Los Angeles, attending Harvard School in the 1950s, and how a chance encounter with Harvard teacher Nat Reynolds ’51 changed the trajectory of his life. Governor Davis also discusses his time at Stanford and Columbia Law before serving in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star. Seeing firsthand how, in his words, low-income minority soldiers bore the brunt of combat in far greater numbers than his white counterparts, Governor Davis was inspired to address this inequality through politics, holding various statewide positions before being elected California Governor in 1998. Lastly, Governor Davis speaks about California's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges of running a state in crisis, and his trademark stoicism--a trait which aided him through the many highs and lows of politics, including the 2003 recall. Governor Davis cites Nat Reynolds '51 of Harvard School and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley as profound life influences.
: Gina Prince-Bythewood, Filmmaker
Gina Prince-Bythewood is a director and writer whose films include Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond The Lights, and most recently, 2020’s The Old Guard starring Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne. In this episode, Gina speaks about her beginnings in Pacific Grove, CA, finding motivation through athletics and inspiration through the encouragement of great teachers, leading her to UCLA film school, writing for television, and then a chance to write and direct her first film, Love & Basketball, at just 28. Gina speaks about her love of filmmaking, the intimacy of directing actors and the joy of building character, but also the systemic challenges that Black women like her face in building careers in Hollywood, particularly behind the camera. Having recently accepted a leadership role with the DGA, Gina now finds herself quite encouraged by the conversations occurring around her and what she sees as real progress being made across the industry. New and meaningful directing opportunities are also making their way to Gina, including two upcoming projects—Women of the Movement, a limited series about Mamie and Emmett Till that Gina recently shot in Mississippi; and the Woman King, a historical epic about an all-female military unit starring Viola Davis. Gina references Ellen Coulter of Pacific Grove High School and Ivan Cury of UCLA Film School as profound educational influences.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.