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 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 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.
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.