Romain Vakilitabar: Entrepreneur, artist, higher ed administrator, children’s author 

Romain Vakilitabar CA ‘10 dreaded going to sixth grade – until he learned about Colorado Academy.

The child of a French mother and an Iranian father, Vakilitabar had felt like an outsider at his elementary school. But when he visited CA in 2002 and shadowed another student, he felt immediately at home.

“At CA, people were interested in the multicultural background that defines my upbringing,” he says. “That made a big difference for me.”

On the CA campus, Vakilitabar felt admired for his differences, rather than ostracized for them. He made friends, got involved in school activities, thrived. Today, multiculturalism still plays a prominent role in his life as an artist and entrepreneur living in Denver. He has traveled to China, Spain, India, Ghana, and more, but he never forgets where he came from.

“CA was a home for me, a place that made me into myself in a way I wouldn’t have expected,” he says. “I’m very thankful for that amazing opportunity.”

Turning ideas into reality

Vakilitabar began his first business in a dorm room during his freshman year of college at the University of Colorado Boulder. He and a classmate started The Fifth Season, an organization that enables elderly people to tell and record their stories for the benefit of future generations.

“Trying to turn a new idea into reality is fun and scary,” he says. “Building this project, branding and marketing it, vying for finite financial resources – it was extremely rewarding to take the lessons in the classroom outside of it.”

After that, Vakilitabar joined social business accelerator Unreasonable Group and spent a year circumnavigating the globe by sea, sharing business resources and ideas with social entrepreneurs all over the world. Back on dry land, he was on the founding team of Watson University in Boulder, where aspiring social entrepreneurs come to learn and then return to their home countries to build out their projects.

Currently, his company, PathosVR, works to increase empathy and understanding through cinematic virtual reality experiences that challenge people’s implicit biases and assumptions. Vaikilitabar’s goal is to counter skewed perceptions of places by showing the beauty of the place, and the people in it. His latest short film, My Beautiful Home, paints a portrait of Kibera, Kenya, Africa’s largest slum—and it’s produced in virtual reality, “to accelerate global compassion.”

“With my work, I want to leverage technology to make us more human, create more empathy and bridge understanding gaps,” he says. 

Developing a child’s drive 

As a kid who felt bullied in elementary school, Vakilitabar may not have envisioned himself growing up to create high-tech art with a healing message – but his CA teachers and classmates helped him find his vision.

“CA totally enabled my drive,” he says.

He remembers his term as class president, when he would present his program and project ideas to the faculty and administrators. He always received support from them, which gave him confidence in his ideas and abilities.

“It’s so easy to tell naïve students that their ideas are too far-fetched or unrealistic,” he says. “For many students, their potential is squandered by people who think they’re unrealistic. At CA, they encouraged me and protected my courage, and I’m so grateful for that.”

He also gained inspiration from his CA classmates, who were starting companies and building non-profit organizations as high schoolers.

“Seeing my classmates doing amazing things at a young age – that liberated me and gave me the confidence I needed to think that I was enough,” he says.

Years after his CA graduation, Vakilitabar still thinks of and sometimes gets together with his CA classmates and teachers – Lisa Ruddy, his first teacher at CA; his film instructor, Angel Vigil; fellow alums like Ana Dodson and Ashley Schuyler, who have also followed the path of global humanitarian work. And each month, the high-energy, tech-savvy entrepreneur sits down with several of his Upper School English teachers at their book club.

Giving the gift of scholarship 

For Vakilitabar, the CA connection remains strong, and it wouldn’t have been possible without scholarship support.

When the 11-year-old Vakilitabar found out he’d been accepted to CA, he was “elated, delighted, beyond excited.” Thanks to both internal and external support, the thought of not being able to attend the school of his dreams never crossed his mind.

“Colorado Academy was extremely generous in giving my family the support we needed,” he says. “And the financial aid office was very helpful to us. Coming to CA was a tremendous gift.”

Once he completed eighth grade, the Malone Family Foundation provided support for his high school tuition. That support launched his education, and today he is following his passions in many different directions. With his entrepreneurial spirit and diverse interests, Vakilitabar is living proof that CA prepares students for careers that have not yet been invented.