Alumni Profiles and News
- James Pickens, AHS '08
- Carine Ghannoum, AHS '16
- Brian Parness, AHS '89
- Matt Cohen, AHS '01
- Kyle Robinson, AHS '07
- Alumni Succeed at Harvard Medical School
- AHS Alumnus Featured in "In Weston Magazine"
- Marc Shaw, AHS ‘88
- Heritage Alumni at Georgetown Pursue Careers in Law
- Mateus Falci, AHS '07
- Keith Spencer, AHS '07 and Michael Zhao, AHS '07
- Kyle Robinson, AHS '07
- Gustavo Trujilo, AHS '88 and Jason Haffizulla, AHS '92
- ‘08 Alumnus on His Way to an M.D
At 25 and only 15 months out of law school, James Pickens, AHS ’08, Georgetown ’12, UCLA Law ’16, found himself arguing a multimillion-dollar patent infringement case in front of a federal jury.
The American Heritage School graduate thinks his training during high school is one reason why. “My investments at American Heritage and on the Mock Trial team have benefited every step of my journey in law, including my federal jury trial wins against LG Electronics and Apple.”
James graduated from AHS in 2008 where he was a Pre-Law student and a founding member of Mock Trial. Those experiences gave him a taste for the law and preparation for his future career. “The professors in the Pre-Law Program at American Heritage taught us to write, speak, and think like a lawyer – that is, to ask the right questions, to be able to argue both sides of an issue, to formulate arguments and state conclusions concisely, and to speak with grace and courage on society’s most controversial problems.”
After AHS, James attended Georgetown University and UCLA Law School. Today, after cutting his teeth at a few law firms, he is a sole practitioner representing intellectual property owners in copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret matters. This allows him to combine his love of art, technology, and trial law. “I chose to practice in intellectual property to defend legal protections for innovators and creators during an era where many factors have transformed, and significantly weakened, the IP protections that have enabled American businesses to thrive for centuries.”
James encourages current AHS students to make the most of their high school experience by exploring engineering, architecture, medicine, journalism, the performing arts, law, or whatever else piques their curiosity. This will not only provide a wonderful basis of knowledge but also expose them to inspiring teachers. “I can’t speak highly enough on the caliber of the professors and their commitment to training us to pursue not only excellence but also honor and humility.”
Carine Ghannoum, AHS ’16, has always been attracted to the extraordinary, and she is now in her third year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Carine says she developed her adventurous spirit during her seven years at American Heritage. “Aside from the stellar academics and extracurriculars, Heritage has taught me to never stop exploring because you can never place a cap on ambition. I learned there’s a beauty in hard work and compassion, and, together, dreams turn into an achievable reality.”
While at Heritage, Carine threw herself into the Honors Legal Studies Program. She was an officer all four years of high school and captain of both the Mock Trial and Moot Court teams, where she traveled across the country for competitions. “We were state champions two of my four years, and I was awarded Best Attorney three years in a row.”
Carine also ran track while staying involved in Model UN, as well as philanthropic organizations like One Planet United.
When it came time for college, Carine took a leap and applied abroad. “I wanted an experience that challenged me in new, different ways, and that is exactly what I got!”
Carine currently is studying International Relations with a concentration in Computer Science. She’s an armaments research fellow specializing in drone technology. She’s also Head of Content for the school’s Foreign Affairs Committee, where she’s organizing a national conference about the business of war.
When she’s not studying or participating in Moot Court, she’s exploring new hobbies – like fencing, salsa dancing, and gourmet cooking. She also volunteers at a senior home teaching residents about how to use cell phones and computers.
During the summer, Carine has sought out adventure as well. In 2016, after graduating from Heritage, she traveled to Lebanon and Turkey, where she became trapped amid a failed political coup. That, she says, “turned out to be a scary moment, yet an incredible historical experience afterwards.” She’s also interned at Snap Inc., which owns the phone app Snapchat, in San Francisco and the State Attorney’s Office in Miami with the cybercrime team.
Carine plans to return to the United States after graduation to attend law school. Her ultimate goal: become an intellectual property attorney for a tech company. In the meantime, she’ll keep exploring the world around her. “At such a young age, I learned in order to be exceptional, one must be comfortable challenging the norm and achieving the unachievable.”
"AHS prepared me for college and after in a unique way," says Brian Parness, AHS Class of 1989.
For 17 years, Brian worked as Vice President of Investments and a financial advisor at Ameriprise Financial in New York. During that time, he married his wife Lisa, and together, they had 4 children–Matthew 17, Megan 15, Maya 13, and Jake 9. Somehow, Brian found the time to practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Serra BJJ and get really good at it, because for the last 9 years, he has been actively competing on a national level.
Brian credits his years at Heritage for helping to shape his leadership and communication skills that are still applicable in his life today. That's what gave him the confidence to leave a big financial company and start his own firm–Parness Financial Services, Inc.
"I guess it was about time," he says. "Making this move was both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but now that my transition is complete, being independent is totally satisfying, which totally justifies my choice."
Most of Brian's clients have been with him for many years. He still has the compliance and resources of a large institution behind him as the custodian of his practice, and he is always looking to grow his practice.
His advice to current AHSers is to diversify. Brian suggests joining clubs, teams, programs, "maybe even outside your comfort zone." He goes on to say, "Meet new and different people. This is the best place to try and find yourself. Take a chance!"
Some of Brian's closest friends at American Heritage were Dr. Laurie, AHS Vice President, and Mr. Shaw, AHS Admissions Director.
"We played football together in '87, and playing with those guys under the tutelage of Coach Brian VanGorder who went on to coach college football at campuses like Notre Dame, there were life lessons learned at a young age," Brian says. Lessons like thinking smart, respect, hard work, and good character were more important than anything else.
"We were a family, and some of my closest friends today are from my Heritage days." He says, "I'll always bleed black and gold."
Matt Cohen's acting portfolio is impressive, which makes it easy to assume he dreamed of becoming an actor all his life. Yet, he didn't realize until late in his college years that he wanted to try out acting. That's when a star was born.
Matt attended American Heritage from 2nd grade through 12th grade and graduated in 2001. He played football through high school and dabbled in the fine arts through the years. "I continuously took drama classes with the fantastic Mr. Usher," he says. "He had such patience with me and my jockey football buddies and really tried to teach us about what acting truly is." Matt took part in plays such as The Wizard of Oz and The Nutcracker when he was in 6th or 7th grade.
While at Heritage, Matt recalls he had so many wonderful experiences led by so many extraordinary teachers and role models. "They paved the way for me to be a better man by teaching me a work ethic and discipline for maintaining a healthy and balanced routine, both mentally and physically, throughout my daily life as a career man, a husband, and a father."
After graduation, Matt attended Florida State University for three years on an academic scholarship and then decided he wanted to take a few months off, go to Los Angeles, and give acting a try. "One success led to another success, and I ended up staying in Los Angeles from that point on," Matt says. "I would love to go back at some point and finish out my credits so I can graduate. That being said, I studied everything from advertising to architecture in pursuit of a business degree."
In the past almost 15 years since living in L.A., Matt has worked on a number of TV shows and movies. Currently, he is playing one of the lead doctors, Griffin Munro, on a daytime television show called General Hospital. He recently finished portraying the role of Levi Wescotas in How To Get Away With Murder, played the important role in the Winchester family tree on the hit television show Supernatural, he was Jeremy in Season 4 of 90210, and the main role as Aiden Dennison in South of Nowhere for 4 years. That is where he met co-star Mandy Musgrave whom he fell in love with and married in 2011 and then had a son, Macklin, in 2015.
With the west coast of the U.S. as his home, social media has done a good job of bridging the distance and years with his buddies from Heritage. "I am basically friends with my entire graduating class on Facebook, and they continue to give me tips on how to be a better father and a better husband, which is completely appreciated. I graduated with a special group of people from an extremely special establishment. The lessons I learned at American Heritage have made my life easier and made me more capable as a human."
Kyle Robinson started at American Heritage when he was in 1st grade back in 1996. After graduating from AHS in 2007, he attended Columbia University as a pre-medical student, and then went to med school at the University of Florida. Today, he is completing his 3rd year of a 6-year clinical training residency in plastic surgery at the University of Tennessee's Health Science Center.
Kyle was recently in town visiting family, so he came back to his alma mater to see some of his former guidance counselors and administrators, and to do an interview for an Alumni Spotlight in the AHS Magazine.
As he sat down in the library, immediately his memory jogged to the Pre-Med Society's 5K For a Better Day brainstorm session in 2005. "We sat around long tables in the old library." (He's talking about the current Lower School library since the Upper School library wasn't built yet.) His hands moving in circles to help recreate the scene, "We got together with pre-law to brainstorm and plan the run." Kyle's face lit up. He was the one who thought of the name for this charity run that has benefited the pediatric oncology unit at Broward Health for the past twelve years.
"It's a legacy," he states. "A legacy for everyone who contributed back then and for everyone who participates now."
Kyle was in the American Heritage Pre-Med Program in high school; it was in 8th grade when he knew he wanted to explore the medical field.
"Dr. Laurie came into my science class with a tour, and he was talking about the Pre-Med Program in general, which intrigued me," Kyle remembers. He had a friend in the Pre-Med Club, so he decided to go to one of the meetings where a pathologist was the guest lecturer. That was the day he was inspired to go into medicine.
Kyle confides that when he was much younger, he was slow to pick up reading. "I'm still a slower reader than my peers," he says, yet he overcame a major obstacle.
Math and science were his strongest subjects through school. He was on the AHS Math Team with Mr. Rovere, and one of his favorite memories was when Mr. Rovere came to school one day with a horrible case of laryngitis. Kyle says he always did his homework ahead of time because he got a kick out it, so Mr. Rovere designated him teacher for the day. "He stood at the podium and pointed to things he wanted me to explain, and then I taught it to the class," Kyle says. It was Trigonometry class, and he was in 9thgrade.
A true leader, Kyle is also naturally talented in music, having taught himself piano and winning 3rd place in the AHS Talent Show for one of his compositions. He played flute in the Patriot Marching Band, and when asked about playing any sports, he responds he was a wrestler.
"I hated running, and wrestling is the only sport that didn't involve running."
Though, he admits, "I wasn't good at it, the effect it had on me was tremendous." It challenged him, taught him humility, teamwork, and discipline. "It's a sport where your chest moves with your body; it's a marriage of critical thinking and kinesthetic ability."
Kyle's can-do attitude derives from the fact that he's not afraid to do something poorly. "I was never belittled for failure. At Heritage, I was always encouraged to try everything and keep going, so I was never afraid to take something I didn't know and make it happen."
That's why he is so successful today. "The multiple disciplines I studied in pre-med at Heritage, and the courses I took–I couldn't have imagined taking those classes at any other high school. They all set the foundation that carried me through college," he says. He vividly remembers taking Dr. Laurie's Anatomy & Physiology class. "It went into excruciating detail about the head and neck; you wouldn't expect a high school class to teach all that, but everything stuck with me, and I didn't have to study until month four of my Anatomy & Physiology class at Columbia." He proudly adds that he recycled his Gray's Anatomy textbook in medical school, even though it was a few editions older than what his classmates were using. "It's all the same information," he affirms.
What made him gravitate to plastic surgery?
A snowboarding injury in the canyons of Utah. It was the x-rays and the doctor's explanation of his hand while he was looking at the x-rays that fascinated Kyle. That coupled with a friend in elementary school who had a cleft lip–"I was captivated by fixing things like that."
Then, when he was a junior at Columbia, he was at a student-doctor dinner and met the chair of plastic surgery at the Columbia-Cornell Medical Centers. "He told me everything about plastic surgery, and even though I heard it's the most competitive field, what you get to do is phenomenal–to reconstruct burns, hands, spines–the breadth of the field is incredible."
In medical school, Kyle says he met a lot of people who were studying to be doctors because they were told that's what they needed to be, and they were not happy. Kyle, on the other hand, says he was elated the entire time. He has been described by his medical attendings as "pathologically happy" and "eerily resistant to burnout."
Kyle's response: "I attribute that to my love of what I do. You have to be a part of the stories you want to tell."
Now, halfway through his residency, the story he tells is like a fairy tale, as he is doing what he loves to do, and he is married to his medical school sweetheart, Sarah. She's a pediatrician, she just finished her residency, and she will start her medical career at a private practice in Arkansas, just over the state border and near their home in Memphis.
Kyle reflects on the long journey of going to high school, then college, and then professional school after; yet his theory of trying everything along the way and doing the thing you love most no matter what has been the key to his happiness in life. "If you explore your options early on in high school, you can find the kinds of things that will fill your potential." He says the opportunities here at American Heritage propel you that way, and he speaks from experience as one of our many outstanding alumni.
An athlete and National Honor Society member at Heritage, Marc Shaw, class of 88, continues to enjoy his friends from the Heritage football team and remains in contact with several of them. He entered college after high school and then began his journey on a “road less traveled” to eventually meet with success. You could say that Marc was a “late bloomer.” Marc decided to join the work force in 1993, twelve credits short of graduation from UF. He first worked in the restaurant industry in Savannah, Georgia, and then New York. Marc moved back to Florida in early 1995 and was an assistant general manager of an indoor flea market in Miami. In 1996, he moved back to New York City without a job, but landed one as a temporary administrative assistant in the US Equity team at JPMorgan Asset Management. Eventually, he found a permanent job there. Over time, he moved up the ladder, but was told that to get farther up, he needed to complete his degree. He was able to finish his B.S. Degree at the University of Florida and his ascension up the corporate ladder gained speed.
Marc is currently a client portfolio manager in the Global Multi Asset Group at JPMorgan Asset Management. He works from their office in London and is responsible for supporting JPMorgan’s multi- asset portfolios that sell throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America. This includes helping their sales team sell the strategies and keep existing clients.
Marc is married to wife,Elizabeth (Lizzy) and has three beautiful children, son Wylie (6 years old), daughter Liliana (5 years old) and son Quinn (2 years old).JP Morgan moved Marc and his family to London in 2008. Marc states, “We love London; it is a great city to live in. Plus I have had meetings in 20 countries in three years, which is pretty cool! We plan to stay here in the immediate future, but would one day like to move back to the states as my kids get older. Who knows? Maybe one day they will attend Heritage.” He admits to having two hobbies, “ My primary hobby has been to support my son as he has become a huge soccer fan. My other hobby is traveling the world and eating great local food and wine during my journey.”
In addition to enjoying European cuisine, Marc has developed a real appreciation for the continent’s history. He was amazed that his neighbor’s cottage is 600 years old! His family and he stayed there for a time. Marc and his youngest son stayed in the newer part of the house, which was added (only) 400 years ago.
Apparently, Marc’s journey on “the road less traveled” landed him in a good place.
Three Heritage grads are currently in attendance at Georgetown University in D.C. and are in various stages of pursuing a law degree.
David Robles, Heritage ‘05, is a second year law student at Georgetown University Law Center. He is an alumnus of Vanderbilt, 09, who, after his graduation, worked at Goldman Sachs in N.Y.C.. It was there that he became very interested in the financial services industry and this influenced him to go to law school. He plans on pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer working primarily in mergers and acquisitions and capital markets.
Interestingly, when David was at Heritage, he was committed to a career in medicine and participated in the Pre-med Program, not Legal Studies. In a recent e-mail David credited Heritage for helping him with an important part of the legal profession to which he now aspires. He writes, “I thought that my education at American Heritage gave me a solid foundation to succeed academically at the undergraduate and graduate level. As a law student and attorney, you spend a great amount of time writing. I think that Heritage definitely placed a great deal of emphasis on developing writing skills, which has helped me tremendously with what I am doing now.”
David’s roommate at Georgetown is a fellow Heritage grad. Manny Fragata, Heritage ‘07, is in his first year of law school at Georgetown, having graduated from UF last summer. At UF, Manny received his B.S. in Economics with a minor in sports management. Manny has had an interest in law since his days at Heritage where he participated in the Pre-law Program and was part of the Mock Trial team for two years. Manny states, “My interest in the law was further developed and stimulated in mock trial and through various course offerings through the Pre-law program. In college I learned essential business skills and concepts that could be relevant in my goals of working in corporate law.” Manny sees his future profession as a corporate lawyer for a “Big Law” firm.
James Pickens, Heritage ‘08, is not quite so far along in his legal career but has a bright future. James has spent his undergraduate years at Georgetown and will receive a degree in English in May, 2012. As a junior, he has already been accepted to the Georgetown Law Center, but is not fully determined that he will attend next fall. He is applying to a number of law schools that include Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
While at Heritage, James was Vice-President of the Pre-law Society and President of National Honor Society. James writes, “ ...The unparalleled access to Pre-law education and practice that American Heritage offers greatly reinforced my desire to attend law school... I have maintained the passion I acquired for law in the Pre-law program at American Heritage, and it has been the primary factor in my decision to apply to law school.”
As an undergrad at Georgetown, James drew on his high school experiences with pre-law. “At Georgetown, I founded a Student Advocacy Office that represents and advises students who are accused of disciplinary violations. We train our advocates to defend students’ rights and create a safe, confidential environment for helping students with a variety of questions about student life. I have thoroughly enjoyed founding a student organization centered around defending students’ rights, and I happily cite my background in high school of learning about law and practicing on the Mock Trial team for many of the skills that helped me make the idea of a Student Advocacy Office at Georgetown a reality.”
We thank these three attorneys-to-be for keeping us informed about their career progress. We wish them every success as they pursue their goals!
American Heritage students were treated to a presentation on Wednesday, January 4, by alum and Harvard freshman Mateus Falci. Students listened attentively as Mateus discussed his transition to college and the wonderful experiences and opportunities at Harvard.
Students learned about the admissions process, the housing system and “shopping” for classes, a system of attending classes in which a student has an interest in order to find the class most suited to his/her aptitude and needs. It was a pleasure having him back on campus and we look forward to seeing all that he accomplishes in the future.
Keith Spencer, ‘07, has received acceptance to Michigan State University College of Law with a 75% tuition Trustee Scholarship, for the Fall of 2011.He promises to stop by AHS before he leaves Florida for East Lansing, Michigan, the capitol of Michigan and location of Michigan State University.
Michael Zhao, ‘07, has been accepted to medical school on a full scholarship. He was one of 500 applicants chosen for Texas Tech’s very selective MD/MBA program. It’s the only four-year joint program in the entire country where a student can earn both a business and medical degree. Michael is still waiting to hear back from the other seven Texas schools (and Dartmouth) where he interviewed.
Kyle Robinson, class of ‘07, was the invited guest speaker to a recent Pre-med Society meeting. Kyle will graduate from Columbia University with a major in biochemistry and complete his pre-med education. He has been accepted at the University of Florida School of Medicine.
During his presentation to students, Kyle cited the advantages he had in college as a result of the pre-med classes he took at American Heritage. Kyle expressed, “I had a great advantage over the other students because I had seen at Heritage many of the same things presented in college. During my internship, I benefitted from learning experiences with Dr. Suite, Dr. Laurie, Dr. Silverman and Dr. Pulido.”
Kyle explained that while other students felt overwhelmed with the academic load, and that they were busy all the time, he said that it was no comparison to how busy he was in school at Heritage. Kyle credits Heritage for his excellent education in preparation for his success at Columbia.
He also gave advice to the students that will help in the selection process for college; the MCAT exams; the application process to medical school; and all that lies ahead for the medical students. Kyle also touched on the process of financing education and the importance of becoming a well-rounded student.
Imagine you were the valedictorian of your high school senior class. What do you do for an encore? Heritage valedictorians from 1988 and 1992 have demonstrated that being the best at what they do became part of their lifestyle. While following two very different career paths, Gustavo Trujillo, ‘88, and Jason Haffizulla, ‘92, both have met with success in their chosen fields, as well as their personal lives. And both have entrusted Heritage to provide an education for their children.
Upon graduation, Gustavo attended the University of Miami where he earned B.S. degrees in both Civil Engineering (once again, as valedictorian) and Architectural Engineering (cum laude). He then received an MBA in Finance and International Business. Jason Haffizulla also attended the University of Miami, entering the school of Medicine in 1996. He met his wife, Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla, at UM, and they were married in their first year at school. Both he and his wife earned their MD degrees in 2000 and both obtained their Internal Medicine Certification from Cleveland Clinic Florida. They have four children (three at Heritage), Zarina, grade six; Anisa, grade two; Nadia, Kindergarten and Adam, five months old.
Jason has developed his medical practice in Tamarac and resides in Coral Springs. He is a real enthusiast of what South Florida offers. “It is my home. The weather, the energy, the diverse cultures, the people, everything. I hope never to leave.” While Gustavo and his family have settled down in Weston, he and his wife of 15 years, Dominique Bastos, did some wandering after college. From 1996 to 2004, they lived and worked in Europe, Central and South America, Hong Kong and Boston and New York. When their daughter Chloe was born, they decided to come back “home.” Gustavo is an Independent Consultant-Systems Integration and Telecommunications Program Manager for American Express and FPL. Of his hobbies and interests, Jason explains, “I am interested in soccer.
I exercise regularly. I love traveling with my wife and children. We are currently exploring National Parks. I would also consider medicine ‘my hobby’ in addition to my work. I enjoy taking care of my patients, and it gives me a deep sense of joy and satisfaction to see them. I am humbled by their trust and faith in me, I truly appreciate it...there are no words.” Thanks to Mr. Usher, Jason also developed an appreciation for theatre while at Heritage and mentions that he was one of only two light/sound men for Heritage plays. Those were the days when a portable stage in the gym or a makeshift theatre-in-the-round in the old “quad” served as staging areas.
Gustavo states, “One of the great things of AHS...we all had opportunities to pursue any interest we wanted (be it academic or athletic). Teachers and coaches always encouraged me to sign up for additional classes and try out for different teams. Because of this, not only did I go very well prepared to college, but now, as an adult, I very much enjoy pursuing new opportunities at work or learning a new hobby.”
Gustavo established a family tradition about 10 years ago, when he was determined to try running the New York City Marathon. He ran in costume and has every year since, running as Elvis, a horse, a grandma, a gecko and a Santa, to name a few of his “ running suits.”
Andrew Golden is a 2008 alumnus of Heritage who is well on his way to a career in medicine. He is currently enrolled as a freshman at Florida State University College of Medicine following a 2012 degree in Biological Sciences from the same school.
Andrew credits his work in the Heritage Pre-med Program as the inspiration for his career choice. He states, “The Pre-med Club helped me determine my career path; it solidified my desire to practice medicine.”
In high school, he was a National Honor Society member and an excellent student. Consequently, he was the beneficiary of a 100% Bright Futures Scholarship and freshman honors scholarship. In his time at Tallahassee, Andrew has found time to pursue interests in golf and Ultimate Frisbie.
We look forward to the day when we can call him Dr. Andrew Golden!
James says his investments at American Heritage and on the Mock Trial team have benefited every step of his journey in law, including his federal jury trial wins against LG Electronics and Apple.
Carine Ghannoum, AHS ’16, has always been attracted to the extraordinary, and she is now in her third year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.