Jordan ZAPPALA ’99, Stay-At-Home Mom

A Class of 1999 alumna, Jordan ZAPPALA spent her high school years in the Ellis Upper School before graduating from Notre Dame University and receiving her master’s in print journalism from Boston University in 2009. As she entered the workforce, digital content creation was taking off and traditional print journalism was declining fast, so Jordan made the decision to apply her writing background to a different career. She became a Grant Writer at the National Archives Foundation (NAF) and from there worked her way up to become the Director of Institutional Giving. An expert at switching gears with grace, Jordan recently made the decision to take a step back from her career at the NAF to focus on her newborn son and two-year-old daughter. Now a full-time Mom and part-time freelancer in the D.C. area, Jordan reflects on Ellis, motherhood, and the importance of all-girls education.
Years at Ellis:Grade 9 to Grade 12
Location:Washington, D.C.
Occupation:Mother & Freelancer
Education:B.A. Program of Liberal Studies, Notre Dame University; M.S. Print Journalism, Boston University

You previously worked in nonprofits in Washington, D.C., how did you get into that line of work?
I worked at the National Archives Foundation (NAF) for the past seven years as their Director of Institutional Giving, but I pretty much stumbled into that job at first. I was fresh out of my master’s program (for print journalism) at a time when veteran journalists were being laid off by the dozens as the print industry was learning how to monetize online outlets. Realizing that it might be a while before the industry righted itself enough to restart the hiring process, I combined my ability to write with my experience in the museum and development world and began as a Grant Writer at NAF. It’s been an incredible learning experience ever since. I have been so honored to walk by the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution each day and know that my work supports them and the billions of records at the Archives.

Do you have a mentor? How has that relationship benefited you? Can you tell me about him or her?
Actually, as I progressed through this line of development work, one of my biggest mentors has been my mother. Though she didn’t get a paycheck for her work outside the home when I was growing up, she was always volunteering her time with organizations she cared about—either on a board or through direct fundraising efforts. Her ability to strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone, connect a cause she cared about to someone else’s life, and ultimately ask for their participation or support is a rare gift, and one from which I learned a great deal over the course of my professional life. As I have progressed through the field, it’s been wonderful to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, and celebrate successes we’ve both had.  

You recently had your second child, how has motherhood changed you?
On the grand scale, the process of growing, birthing and then sustaining a human has driven home for me just how powerful we are as women—a seed that was of course planted during my time at Ellis. On the more personal side and as cliche as it sounds, becoming a mom has made my heart double in size. These tiny people are incredible teachers—enabling us to see the world in a new light, and even to better see our own strengths and weaknesses. As my wife and I attempt to raise two healthy, kind, and grounded kiddos, that work has itself already forced us both to grow in ways we hadn’t expected.  

What does your future hold?
I’d love to know this. I am especially curious since I recently took a step back from my work to find a better balance for my family, including my wife (who has a taxing schedule as a corporate litigator), two-year-old Evie and two-month-old Luca. I am freelancing a bit in the development field presently as I stay home with the baby for the next few months, but my immediate future is for the first time a sea of unknowns. It’s an exciting place to be as I get to craft it intentionally.

What is your best memory of Ellis?
This is easy: the day we discovered the underground tunnels obviously. After months of sitting atop a square hatch in the junior carrels, boredom suggested we see if we could open it to see what lay beneath. When we discovered a ladder, crawl space, and a series of tunnels, we recruited lookouts and exploratory teams to try to map where it all traveled—under the library, towards the gym, out to the front office, and beyond. It was our class project for a month or so.

Editor’s Note: Current students who fancy themselves the next Ellis explorers—do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not try this at (your second) home!

Was there a teacher or teachers at Ellis who had a particularly strong influence on your life?
As Head of the Upper School, Judy Callomon was a singular inspiration to many of us, myself not least of all. Though I never had the privilege of being her student in a classroom directly, her brand of leadership has stuck with me for most of my adult life. She had a powerful way of inspiring respect, duty, and honor, and always led by example. She related to all of us easily, but still maintained her position of authority. Any time you were called to her office was both exciting and nerve-wracking—but I usually left there feeling better than I did when I entered, even if it was for a gentle reprimand. I have such strong and positive memories of so many of my teachers, including Dr. Bedell, Dr. Greco, Mrs. Newham, and Dr. Free.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
I’m sure I’m not the first alumna to say it, but Ellis is special. The small class sizes, the quality and personal investment of the teachers, and the incredible student body it attracts create a unique and powerful community. I’d urge all students to develop the relationships you form there—both student and teacher—and work to sustain the ones you have found most fulfilling.  These are incredible people, and the bonds you have made are lasting ones, even if you aren’t in touch all the time.

What is the most important lesson you learned at Ellis?
Do the right thing, and give people the benefit of the doubt. Our class was rarely pulled down by cattiness or worse, and we did typically support each other, even in difficult situations. For a small class, we were a diverse group of women, but we found common ground, teaching me how to relate to others in the real world.    

Some would question whether all-girls schools are still necessary today, what do you think about that?
I think today’s political and cultural headlines show that all-girls schools are more necessary than ever before. Where else can you so effectively mold women who know their true worth, strive to be their best selves, and not let others push them around or silence them?

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Probably some of the activists who led to the passage of the 19th Amendment: Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Alice Stone Blackwell. It’s incredible to me that in the early 1900s, these women were forward-thinking and forceful enough to claim their own self-worth, and then convince others of it. The Archives is launching an initiative honoring the Amendment’s centennial in 2019, and it was the last project I was able to work on before leaving—it was endlessly interesting.   

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Loyal. Organized. Trustworthy.