Imagine going to high school with the cast of Mean Girls — not just the regulation hotties and teen royalty you find at every school in every city in every state, but literally the young celebs who star in huge blockbusters and also happen to be ruling your creative writing class. That was my life as a teenager: high school with Hollywood’s rising elite, at Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. And while it sounds like this might have been a snooty, intimidating, Mean Girls sort of situation, it was actually the complete opposite for me. To get to the exclusive Crossroads School, you have to turn down a dingy alley off of a not-so-glamorous section of L.A.'s Olympic Boulevard, near the exit to a freeway that bisects the City of Angels in half. There’s a body shop next door, and a bunch of other rundown buildings near the school, which boasts alumni including Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Kate Hudson, and Gwyneth Paltrow. But the unassuming setting adds some bizarre charm to this “hippie” high, a place that puts the focus on respecting the planet and fellow humans at its core. Crossroads students are required to do community service and spend time outdoors on an annual camping trip; teachers emphasized that “smart” can mean a lot of things, including having skills in the performing arts. We also called those same teachers by their first names, which should give you a good sense of the nontraditional nature of the school. Students all took a class called “life skills,” which is, essentially, group therapy. There, we talked about our feelings as though they were just as important as the Pythagorean theorem. My life-skills leader happened to be Amber Tamblyn’s mom, whom we called Bonnie. When we had breaks, students generally hung out in an alleyway filled with picnic tables, where we ate lunches from a food truck, played music, and waved at the ever-present Toyota Prius parade streaming by. It is a super-creative and progressive environment where we were encouraged to hone in on our individual talents. But it isn’t just a place for the children of elite Hollywood hotshots: Despite the hefty annual price tag (almost $40,000 per year!), the student body and faculty are deeply diverse on all fronts, thanks in part to the availability of tuition assistance.
But of course, a lot of wealthy, famous people do send their kids to Crossroads. Zosia Mamet graduated from the school a few years ahead of me, as did Kiefer Sutherland’s daughter, Sarah. Evan Spiegel, the founder and CEO of Snapchat, graduated just two years before I did, in 2008, along with Alden Ehrenreich, who stars as Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. Of course, notable spawn also meant high-profile parents popping up on campus, too. Dustin Hoffman was a guest teacher in my film class; Denzel Washington served as an assistant basketball coach. Meg Ryan was a regular in the carpool lane. Looking back, I realize our PTA meetings could have doubled as red carpet events. But there was never a member of the paparazzi in sight. I’m not going to lie, though: Even though my dad is in the industry, there were definitely times when I felt like an outsider in a place full of such serious talent. Any kind of painting or drawing class sent me into a shame spiral: I was embarrassed that my skills went only as far as drawing stick figures, and was routinely awestruck by my more artistically inclined friends. Thankfully, I never felt pressured to succeed simply because I was surrounded by people who had already zeroed in on their natural abilities. Eventually, I discovered my own. It’s funny, though: Sometimes, I’ll be flipping through Vogue and find myself feeling like it’s a high school yearbook. Recently, somewhere in those glossy pages, I came across a famous DJ who used to just be a girl in my big brother’s grade at Crossroads. That happens all the time: A kid I graduated with wound up as a tribute in The Hunger Games. Veep and Girls both star two young actresses who graduated in 2006, Mamet and Sutherland. To the rest of the world, they may be stars on the rise. But to me, they're girls from my school who grew into their success.