High School Phenom Exceeds Expectation On Stage And Off

By Joel Waldinger | January 12, 2017


In many ways Zaria Roller is a typical Wisconsin teenager who enjoys her friends, a good laugh and checking out social media. But that is where the typical teenager title ends.

Zaria’s mother, Emida Roller, knew from the moment Zaria arrived that she was going to be special. Her father Steve Roller saw it too.

“She’s had it since she was little. I think she wanted to succeed. It was a natural thing for her,” Steve said. “When she was four years old, she got involved in community theater.”

The theater was the perfect outlet for Zaria’s talents and she continued to improve as she grew older. When she was only 12 years old she successfully auditioned for the lead role of Gabriella in  the Verona Area Community Theater’s edition of “High School Musical Junior”. Zaria and the rest of the cast practiced for months to master their lines, dance steps and songs.

In addition to standing out on stage, Zaria is also a star in the classroom. She is a straight “A” student at Verona’s High School Exploration Academy. As a freshman she is two full years ahead of other kids her age. Emida remembers Zaria’s academic ability emerging at a young age.

“In kindergarten they ask you, ‘Do you know your ABC’s?’ Zaria says, ‘I can say it backwards!’. And she did; she said her ABC’s backwards,” Emida said.

Zaria’s never looked back, but admits the pressure to reach perfection can be daunting.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to always maintain those perfect grades and always stay ahead of the game,” Zaria said.

Everything seems to come so effortlessly and naturally for Zaria, including music. After six years of piano lessons she can play famous pop songs while her friends sing along.

“I like pop songs because that’s something we usually don’t get to do in choir. It’s pretty fun,” Zaria said.

All of Zaria’s hard work and talent showed when she was asked to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s“I Have A Dream” speech in the state capitol rotunda in Madison. Zaria delivered a moving rendition of the speech before a statewide television audience. She memorized the speech from start to finish.

Steve was not at the capitol that day. Instead, he was on business in Quito, Ecuador and watched it live on his computer, but was blown away by Zaria’s poise.  

Zaria had harnessed Dr. King’s emotion and delivered a spellbinding performance. When it was all over Zaria was overwhelmed with the accolades.

“I remember one lady came up to me and said you brought me to tears. You made me really think back to that day. I felt like I was back when he said that speech,” Zaria said.

Since she was little Zaria has been in the spotlight, giving her parents one proud moment after the next. And yet her father will be the first to tell you she is very down to earth.

“Zaria knows she’s succeeding and doing well at things but she is very humble about it. We certainly give her praise and encourage her, but we’ve never made it seem like a big deal to do big things,” Steve said.

To look at Zaria hanging out with her high school friends, you’d think she’s just a typical teenager, and that is just the way Zaria likes it.


“Best Day Of My Life”

Zaria Roller and the Verona Area High School jazz acapella group sing “Best Day of My Life”.

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 

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