Famous Graduates from Miami Schools – Do You Know All These

By Howard Cohen for the MIAMI HERALD


Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations, April 28, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jackson is a Class of 1988 Palmetto Senior High grad who grew up in suburban South Miami-Dade. She is one of the front-runners for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination. Tom Williams AP

Move over billionaire Jeff Bezos. You may have founded Amazon and may be the richest person in the United States — and in space, apparently — according to Forbes’ 2021 list. But Bezos, a Miami Palmetto Senior High Class of 1982 grad and Miami Herald Silver Knight winner for science that year, is not the famous Palmetto graduate in the news this week. Ketanji Brown Jackson is one of the front-runners for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination. That’s a pretty powerful position that could help shape how the country governs itself for years to come. Jackson, 51, is a Class of 1988 Palmetto Senior High grad who grew up in suburban South Miami-Dade. She was a Miami Herald Silver Knight honorable mention recipient in the drama category when she was a high school senior.

Jackson currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Her former Palmetto debate teammate told the Herald that Jackson, a student body president at Palmetto, “was a star in the making. The only question was, was she going to be on the Supreme Court or was she going to be president of the United States?”

Jackson’s Palmetto High history and accomplishments got us thinking: What other well-known South Florida achievers in areas like civics, business, entertainment and arts, community and science are Palmetto alumni? What about our other schools? So we’ve come up with this list, in no particular order, which is not meant to be exhaustive. We can’t possibly include every school in Miami-Dade County and its notable alumni. But it does help tell the tale that the South Florida school system sure can hold its own against any other in the country. We’d love to hear from you, too, to help grow our list. Tell us about some of your favorite classmates who went on to achieve national or, in some cases, international renown.


In addition to Bezos and Jackson, Palmetto boasts these high-profile alumni and many others. Among them:

NASA astronaut Dominic Lee Pudwill Gorie. His first mission in 1998, STS-91, was the final Shuttle-Mir docking mission and ended the joint U.S. and Russian Phase I Program. Gorie’s third mission was to the International Space Station and his final mission in 2008, also to the space station, saw Gorie’s crew complete 250 orbits of the Earth. U.S. Surgeon general Vivek Murthy was a 16-year-old valedictorian at Palmetto and later inducted into the school’s alumni association Hall of Fame in October 2018. Zoo Miami spokesman, wildlife expert and photographer Ron Magill was in the Class of 1977.

Albert Dotson Jr., managing partner at the Miami law firm Bilzin Sumberg and chairman emeritus of 100 Black Men of America, graduated from Palmetto in 1978. Pop star Camila Cabello went to Palmetto so she, too, was a Panther — but not for long. She left when she was in the ninth grade during the 2012-2013 school year. Cabello wanted to concentrate on her singing career after auditioning for TV’s “The X-Factor” and forming Fifth Harmony. Cabello got her high school diploma after home schooling.

Camila Cabello sings “First Man” at the Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2020. Matt Sayles AP

Pop star Camila Cabello went to Palmetto so she, too, was a Panther — but not for long. She left when she was in the ninth grade during the 2012-2013 school year. Cabello wanted to concentrate on her singing career after auditioning for TV’s “The X-Factor” and forming Fifth Harmony. Cabello got her high school diploma after home schooling.

Young adult novel writer Alexandra Flinn, whose best-sellers include “Breathing Underwater,” “Beastly” and “Beheld,” was in the Class of 1984.


The notable names who have called Miami Senior High their alma mater read like a who’s who of American life since it was established in 1903. Former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham went to Miami Senior from 1952 to 1955. Now 85, the origins of Graham’s political career must have begun at the school where he was student body president during his senior year. Graham was also the recipient of the Sigma Chi Award, Miami Senior’s highest honor at the time. Many, like actors Desi Arnaz, who loved Miami Senior High before he loved Lucy, Veronica Lake and Christopher George, are long gone alumni. So is Ed Roberts, credited as the “father of the personal computer” for his invention in 1974. And many sports legends in the National Football League and National Basketball Association also went to Miami Senior. And the man who will now lead all Miami-Dade public schools, the newly-selected superintendent José Dotres, graduated from Miami Senior High.


The private boys’ Catholic school in Westchester has graduated a host of big names over its 64 years. In business alone, there are four current Fortune 500 CEOs who can call Columbus home:

Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World and star of CNBC’s “The Profit.” In December, Lemonis, 48, who graduated from Columbus in 1991, gave a surprise Christmas gift to his alma mater. He gave $18,000 checks to each Columbus employee — about $3.1 million worth to 145 teachers and 35 support staffers. Lemonis also contributed $7 million to build a college guidance center and a success center for students of disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jose Mas, CEO of MasTec Inc.

Robert Sanchez, CEO of Ryder Systems Inc.

Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of ADP, a global technology company that provides human capital management solutions — like, perhaps, your paycheck? “Columbus played a big part in my becoming a successful person and enhanced my success later on in life,” Rodriguez told the Miami Herald in 2015. Columbus also has had two Florida Supreme Court justices in Raul G. Cantero, who served from 2002 to 2008 and who, according to Columbus, was the first Florida Supreme Court justice of Hispanic descent. Also, John Couriel, who is currently serving on the court.

Carlos Gimenez, 68, is currently a member of the U.S. Congress and was mayor of Miami-Dade County from 2011 to 2020.

Entertainers who came out of Columbus include comedian Brian Regan and Raul Malo, lead singer of the made-in-Miami country music group, The Mavericks.


Columbus’ sister school, Lourdes, graduated Gloria Estefan in 1975. A decade later she put “Conga” in constant rotation with husband Emilio Estefan and Miami Sound Machine bandmates. The Estefans’ made-in-Miami musical lifestory, “On Your Feet!,” comes to the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre stage on Feb. 9 through March 6.

International superstar Gloria Estefan with Jason Canela (Emilio Estefan) and Claudia Yanez (Gloria Estefan), the stars of “On Your Feet!” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Alberto Romeu ACTORS' PLAYHOUSE

Film director Barry Jenkins guided his labor of love film “Moonlight” that was set in his Liberty City hometown to an Oscar for Best Picture in 2016. “People have been talking about how the visuals in ‘Moonlight’ are so bright and colorful and beautiful, and yet the story is so heavy. That’s how I think about growing up in Miami: Life was very heavy, but it was still a beautiful, inspiring place. And I fell back in love with Miami during the process of making this movie,” Jenkins told the Herald in 2017.

Rapper Trina, born Katrina Taylor and raised in Liberty City, graduated from Miami Northwestern in 1992, and her rap career took off by the millennium. In addition to a number of albums, including “Da Baddest Bitch” in 2000 and “The One” in 2019, Trina co-hosted the “Trick and Trina Morning Show” on 99JAMZ until 2020. Rapper Trick Daddy, whose hit albums stretch back to “Based on a True Story” in 1997 and who co-starred with Trina on VH1’s “Love and Hip-Hop: Miami,” was also a Miami Northwestern alum.

After the release of “Nann,” Trina’s rap career catapulted, with the song hitting No. 3 on U.S. Hot Rap Tracks and No. 62 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list in ’99. More than two decades later, Trina has continued to collaborate with young artists and plans to release new music in the next year. ROCKSTARR MUSIC GROUP


Retired NASA astronaut Winston Scott of Coral Gables Senior High School was a specialist in spacewalks during his tenure with NASA from 1992 to 1999. Scott took three spacewalks for a total of 19 hours and 26 minutes during his missions to assist in technical planning for the International Space Station and the Spartan satellite, according to NASA.

New age music pianist George Winston, whose early-’80s albums “Autumn,” “Winter Into Spring,” “December” and “Summer” were gold and platinum hits, graduated from Gables in 1967. Other notable Gables alumni include body language, speech expert and producer Lillian Glass, who helped coach Dustin Hoffman for his role as a woman in the comedy classic “Tootsie.” Glass, who also went into the field of academia, was also a body language expert for the eighth season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Some deceased notables from Gables High include U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno (Class of 1956) and “WKRP in Cincinnati” creator Hugh Wilson.

New World School of the Arts grad and Miami filmmaker Billy Corben, whose credits include “Cocaine Cowboys,” “537 Votes,” “Screwball” and “The U.” He made his films in Miami Beach with producing partner Alfred Spellman, who went to North Miami Beach Senior High. PHOTO PROVIDED TO THE MIAMI HERALD


You would expect Miami’s New World School of the Arts to graduate a plethora of top talent. And New World has, including “Cocaine Cowboys” documentary director Billy Corben, who has a current documentary series on Netflix, “Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami.”

Playwright and actor Tarell Alvin McCraney from the Class of 1999 won the 2017 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Moonlight.”

There is also Tony winner Katie Finneran and “NCIS” actress Cote de Pablo and Emmy winning choreographer Mia Michaels.

And jazz saxophonist Marcus Strickland even had the opportunity to play on a Grammy Awards telecast when he was 17 at New World in 1997. JazzTimes’ readers’ poll named Strickland its best new artist in 2006. As a band leader Strickland released his “People of the Sun” album for Blue Note in 2018.


While New World keeps the entertainment talent coming, don’t overlook Miami Beach Senior High School. There’s an arts-rich list of well-known Beach High grads that have kept Americans entertained for generations. Did you know that these bold-faced names were Hi-Tides? TV journalist Barbara Walters was in the Class of 1947 before she made a number of subsequent Beach High star grads cry on television.

Also, actors Mickey Roarke (1971), Ellen Barkin (1972), Andy Garcia (1974), actress and author Annabelle Gurwitch (1980) and filmmaker Brett Ratner (1986).

How about singers and musicians including music producer Desmond Child (1972), rapper and New Times Miami columnist Luther Campbell (1979), Exposé singer Ann Curless (1982), rapper Tego Calderón (1990) and busy session musician and producer Fernando Perdomo (1998).

Lest you think Beach High is just a factory for the entertainment world, do note that the school turned out some business leaders, too.

Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium owner Stephen M. Ross, who made a lot of money in real estate, is a 1958 Hi-Tide grad.

Miami Book Fair and Books & Books founder and film producer Mitchell Kaplan graduated in 1972.

And Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber graduated during the height of the disco era in 1978 several years before the Beach revival began post “Miami Vice.”


Miami Edison’s roster of sports stars is legendary and includes former Miami Dolphin Nat Moore, former Detroit Lion Keith Ferguson and Minnesota Lynx basketball player Sylvia Fowles, who also went to Gulliver Prep and who was the Miami Herald’s Athlete of the Year for 2004. In 2020, Fowles set a WNBA all-time rebounding record.

Edison also helped put a man into space and several into political office, including former Rep. John Mica and the late Florida Congressman E. Clay Shaw and late Miami mayor of the 1950s, Randy Christmas.

Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II of Miami Edison was an astronaut support crew member for Apollo 8 and 11. For Apollo 16 in 1972, Mattingly flew to the moon — one of 24 to have made the trek (though he did not walk on the moon), according to NASA.


“The Escape Artist” author Brad Meltzer graduated from NMB High in 1988 and to this day credits his English teacher Sheila Spicer for inspiring his career as a best-selling author. “It was Ms. Spicer,” he told the Miami Herald in a 2018 interview. “She told me one day: ‘You can write.’ I told her, ‘Yeah, many people can write.’ But she persisted and made sure I understood she said I really could write.” Meltzer made the news again last September when a Pennsylvania school board banned his anti-racism illustrated books “I am Rosa Parks” and “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Business exec and philanthropist Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Meta Platforms. You know it as Facebook. Her schoolmates knew her as a Class of 1987 grad.

Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros’ rocker and Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell was born in Queens, New York, but moved to North Miami Beach in his teens. Good enough to put North Miami Beach Senior in his schooling biography.


Bill Conti, the Oscar-winning composer who wrote the music for the “Rocky” and “Karate Kid’’ films and the James Bond movie, “For Your Eyes Only,” won the Herald’s Silver Knight in music in 1959 when he was a North Miami High senior.

Chef and restaurateur Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard Foundation Award winner, is a North Miami grad. So is CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker.

Killian has graduated a slew of sports stars. But did you know TV journalist and current moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” Chuck Todd is a notable Killian alum?

So is Kent Fuchs, the president of the University of Florida in Gainesville.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Sam Moore is a Class of 1953 Booker T. Washington grad. In 2020, Moore, whose hits include “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’” was inducted into the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Alumni Hall of Fame.

Miami historian Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida graduated in 1960. “Miami-Dade County’s first senior high school, ‘free to all Black children,’ was Booker T. Washington Junior-Senior High. It opened the 1926-1927 school year,” Fields wrote in a column for the Miami Herald in 2017. “Educating children was important in the Black community from the time Black men stood as incorporators for Miami to become a city on July 28, 1896.”


Before songwriter-producer Harry Wayne Casey claimed “I’m Your Boogie Man” as the namesake of Miami-based ‘70s pop act KC and the Sunshine Band, he boogied in the halls of Hialeah Senior High. Fellow singer Jon Secada can also call Hialeah Senior High an alma mater.


Film director Phil Lord who brought “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” to screens in 2018 was in the Coconut Grove school’s “verse” at his 1993 graduation.

Drummer Mike Malinin who played for rock band the Goo Goo Dolls and for country singer Tanya Tucker and “Hill Street Blues” actor Bruce Weitz and “Dexter” book series author Jeff Lindsay are also Ransom alum. (Lindsay attended Ransom under his real name, Jeffry Freundlich.)


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represented Florida’s 27th congressional district from 1989 to 2019. She is a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and Senate. And she’s a 1970 graduate of Southwest Senior High. Musician Ed Calle, who has played on countless sessions for artists ranging from the Bee Gees to Gloria Estefan, is from the Class of 1977.

Sportscaster Jim Lampley, the voice for 30 years of “HBO World Championship Boxing” was heard around the halls of Southwest as a member of the 1966 class.


Jessica Darrow was a musical theater standout from Coral Reef Senior High in South Miami-Dade and Miami Children’s Theater when she was honored as a 2013 National YoungArts Foundation winner. Darrow is currently co-starring in the new animated Disney film “Encanto,” as Luisa Madrigal, who sings Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song in the film, “Surface Pressure.” On the current Billboard Hot 100 chart, Darrow’s “Surface Pressure” is No. 10 book-ending a Top 10 headed by Adele’s “Easy on Me.”



The piece was published first in the Miami Herald and is written by Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, who is a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email