Highland Hall Waldorf School

Interview with Jessa Zarubica, class of 2005

What is your current profession? 

I am the senior producer at Pocket.watch, a new children’s entertainment company, where I write, direct, and produce children content across a variety of platforms. My company is run by former Disney Exec Chris Williams and former head of Nikelodeon Albie Hecht. Company investors include CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves, Jon Landau (producer of Avatar and Titanic), UTA, Robert Downey Jr’s Downey Ventures, Chris Jacquemin (WME partner and head of digital media) and Defy Media CEO Matt Diamond. I also continue to act and write as a freelancer. I am currently acting in a new drama directed by Sundance alumna Numa Perrier.

What was your favorite class at Highland Hall?

I loved so many of my classes during my 8 years at Highland Hall, but what stands out in shaping me creatively (and the path that I ended up taking in my career) were my creative writing classes with Michael Ventura and Jasmin Aminian. Despite my dyslexia, that I still struggle with, these two teachers taught me that the content means more than the spelling mistakes. It was these classes that shaped me as a story teller and made me believe in myself as a writer and creator. Both these teachers also shared literature and life experiences that shaped how I view the world. I should also include Karen Grant's English classes into this mix of teachers. She always encouraged me to trust my voice as a human and writer. And finally, the last main lesson class I had my senior year: Individual and Society with Quatro was one of my favorite courses.

What I learned in all these classes has stayed with me to this day. The literature. The inspiration. The advice. The world view point. These teachers, and really all my teachers at Highland Hall shaped me and I am so grateful for their generosity and spirit. Oh and the Native American trip in tenth grade was a highlight — I’ll never forget my magical experience on that trip.

What skills or abilities did Highland Hall help foster and grow?:

The gentle education at Highland Hall allowed me to blossom at my own speed and to explore who I was in the process. I doubt I would be a writer, a director, a producer, and an actor in this industry if I hadn’t had the strength and backbone that Highland Hall gave to me. I needed this strength often, especially in the beginning of my career, when being a female producer and director was not the norm at all. I have never taken a conventional path to my career. Selling my first screenplay at 17 years old, I was told that I had to choose whether I was an actor, a writer, a producer, or a director (this type of person is much more common today) and that I couldn’t do it all. But, I refused to believe that and openly and actively pursued it all. 

Thinking for myself and coming up with my own conclusions was embedded in all of my education at Highland Hall. I remember always being encouraged to stand up for my points of view even if they countered the teacher’s own viewpoint. To look at the world thoughtfully and to not close myself off to the possibilities of the unknown. And, I reflect on these things when the conventions of Hollywood try to put me in a box. To this day I make my living doing it all. In fact I was hired at my job because I could write, produce, direct and am encouraged to think outside the box. And, I credit Highland Hall for this drive, belief in myself, and courage to go for what I want.

What makes Highland Hall different?

Highland Hall fostered my creativity and accepted me for who I was — an average, sometimes poor reader and speller— and rather than criticize my flaws, they encouraged me to blossom into the straight A student that I became. I remember coming from my public school in fifth grade to Highland Hall. The difference in the classroom's was remarkable. At my public school my teachers had called me “stupid” and “slow” and were always criticizing my creative impulses. And, at Highland Hall all my artistic inclinations were encouraged and my reading got better, my math skills improved; all my lessons became easier. I started to understand things on a deeper level. I can still recall my Greek Mythology and Roman Mythology main lessons I had in middle school. 

The environment encouraged me to open up and not be afraid of education but to embrace it mentally, physically and spiritually. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone to Highland Hall.