Distinguished Graduates Announced
An author and illustrator, a prosecutor, a jazz vocalist, and a scientist are the 2010 inductees into the Hopewell Valley Central High School Distinguished Graduate Hall of Fame. The four will be honored October 28 at a 7 p.m. reception at the Mountain View Golf Club in Ewing, N.J. The public is encouraged to attend. Reservations are requested; for more information and to reserve a seat, please call the Central High School main office at 609.737.4003.
WENONAH BROOKS, Class of 1960, is a noted jazz vocalist committed to sharing her passion and knowledge of jazz with students of all ages.
Brooks’s love of music was instilled early; she and her nine siblings attended and sang gospel music in her grandfather’s church. In the 1970s, the Brooks family formed the musical group Brooks Ensemble Plus, which performed at New Hope, Pa., festivals and in church. Brooks secretly explored other kinds of music; as a youngster, she would listen to “The Make Believe Ballroom” under the covers when she was supposed to be sleeping. Her passion for jazz was ignited in eighth grade when she discovered Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald; her babysitting money was used to expand her jazz record collection.
At Central High School, Brooks sang in the choir, but was not a member of the Jazz Band, which met after school. After graduating from Central High, she joined the Air Force, where she trained and served as an accounting and finance specialist. After leaving the Air Force, she worked for RCA in Cherry Hill, N.J., followed by a 19-year career as an account manager at Houghton Mifflin.
Brooks’s professional career as a jazz singer began in New Hope in 1978. She formed a group with Johnny Coles that played in New Hope and at the New Brunswick Jazz Collective. From that beginning, Brooks has become a noted vocalist who has performed with Stanley Jordan, Shirley Horn, Winard Harper, Richie Cole, Denis DiBlasio, Cecil Brooks III and Houston Person. Her style is a synthesis of traditional jazz material from Basie to Hart to Monk to Paul Simon, blended with her intense personal feelings.
Brooks’s commitment to sharing her musical gifts, knowledge, and passion with the community has taken many forms. She has given programs introducing jazz to students ranging from preschoolers to college students. She has offered master concerts at Bryn Mawr College, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Montclair State University, as well as introductions to jazz for preschool and elementary school children at area schools, including Hopewell Elementary. She has performed jazz in music therapy sessions in a children’s hospital and at a shelter for battered women.
Brooks enjoys finding and showcasing local talent. Since 1989, she has given an annual concert at Off-Broad Street Theater in Hopewell, N.J. In her 2009 concert, she featured Nigel Bates, then an eighth-grade cellist at Timberlane Middle School. Brooks continues to use her musical gifts to teach, comfort, inspire, and bring joy to the community.
PETER BROWN, Class of 1997, is an award-winning author and illustrator. Influenced by his grandfather, who through his own artistic endeavors taught Brown that creativity is important, Brown followed his love of art.
While in the second grade at Hopewell Elementary, Brown’s teachers noticed his artistic abilities and placed him in the school’s Gifted and Talented art program, led by teacher Linda Bradshaw. From that beginning, with the encouragement of his family and teachers, Brown continued his development as an artist.
In 1993, Brown entered Hopewell Valley Central High School, where he met Robert O’Boyle, who would become his art teacher and mentor for the next four years. Under the guidance of Dr. O’Boyle, Brown refined his skills in drawing and painting and experimented with a wide array of media and subjects. He was especially fond of drawing imaginary characters and settings; he decided that he wanted to use pictures to tell stories, which led to his gravitation toward comics and animation. Brown began studying the classic films of Disney, Looney Tunes and Anime, graphic novels like “The Dark Knight Returns” and “X-Men” and television cartoons like “The Ren & Stimpy Show” and “Aeon Flux.” With a sketchbook for a companion so he could draw or write whenever inspiration struck, Brown packed his school schedule full of art and writing classes, took additional drawing and animation classes at nearby colleges, and became a member of the Philadelphia Zoo so he could practice animal drawing.
With a portfolio of drawings and character designs, Brown was accepted into the illustration program at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in California. At Art Center, Brown was exposed to art, design, and technology, and was given the opportunity to study with top-level creative professionals.
During college, Brown’s artistic voice began to emerge; he realized that children’s books were the perfect outlet for his silly sense of humor, love of storytelling and unique illustration style. Graduating from Art Center with Distinction and armed with a portfolio of funny, imaginative children’s books, Brown quickly got the attention of book publishers and animation studios.
Brown moved to New York City and worked as a background painter for shows on the Cartoon Network. In 2004, Brown wrote and illustrated his first picture book “Flight of the Dodo.” Since then he’s written and illustrated four more books, illustrated four others, and has become a favorite author/illustrator among booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents, and children. His illustrations are consistently selected by the Society of Illustrators for its competitive Children’s Book Art Show. Brown’s books are being adapted into children’s plays, animated television shows and films; they have been translated into a dozen languages around the world; and his books include this year’s E.B. White award winner, Children’s Choice Award winner, and New York Times bestselling book “The Curious Garden.”
CYNTHIA ANN LICCARDO, Class of 1979, serves as a prosecuting attorney with the Mercer County (N.J.) Office of the Prosecutor.
In high school, Liccardo was a cheerleader, band instrumentalist, ensemble member for musical productions, and Student Council participant.
After graduating from Central High School, Liccardo enrolled at Drew University where she majored in psychology and English. Following her graduation from Drew University, she backpacked in Europe before starting her legal education at the New England School of Law in Boston. Liccardo received her Juris Doctorate degree in 1987, then joined Camerano and Associates, a law firm specializing in medical malpractice. After developing a strong interest in trial work during her time there, Liccardo returned to New Jersey to pursue a position as a trial attorney. She became an assistant prosecutor for Mercer County in 1989; since that time, Liccardo has served as prosecuting attorney in over 70 trials.
In 1990, Liccardo was assigned to a three-attorney trial team charged with handling the caseload of a specific judge. After one year on the team, Liccardo was designated the trial team leader and given the additional responsibility of supervising other team members. She functioned in that capacity for the next three years.
In 1992, while serving as trial team leader, Liccardo was given a secondary assignment to the Child Abuse/Sexual Assault Unit, spending the next ten years prosecuting sex offenders. In that capacity, she developed an expertise in DNA evidence. In 1994, Liccardo became the first attorney in New Jersey to successfully introduce DNA evidence in a criminal trial. Since that time, she has continued to add to her knowledge of the forensic field of DNA analysis, becoming the first prosecuting attorney in New Jersey to introduce two of the newer DNA techniques, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis and short tandem report (STR) technology, into criminal trials.
DUSTIN RUBENSTEIN, Class of 1995, is an assistant professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in New York City.
His interest in science began early, influenced by his travels around the globe with his biologist father. As a junior at Central High School, Rubenstein won the grand prize at the Mercer Science and Engineering Fair and was a finalist at the International Science and Engineering Fair. Rubenstein also was heavily involved in sports, earning varsity letters in soccer and track.
Rubenstein attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. At Dartmouth, he pursued his interests in science by conducting undergraduate research on the migratory patterns of songbirds using stable isotopes in feathers. He received numerous awards for that work, including best undergraduate science thesis. In addition, Rubenstein continued his involvement with sports by playing rugby and teaching white-water kayaking at Dartmouth. In 1999, he graduated with an A.B. (cum laude and high honors) in Biology, Environmental Studies, and Earth Sciences.
After graduating from Dartmouth, Rubenstein won a prestigious James B. Reynolds Scholarship to conduct independent research in the Galapagos Islands, where he spent most of the next year studying the behavior and physiology of Galapagos marine iguanas. In addition to conducting his research, Rubenstein served as a consultant on the acclaimed BBC documentary "Blue Planet."
Following his year in the Galapagos, Rubenstein began his doctorate studies at Cornell University’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, funded by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship. His research on the social behavior of African starlings, which he conducted in Kenya, was awarded numerous research grants, including those from the National Science Foundation. As a graduate student, Rubenstein earned a series of presentation awards at national and international conferences from the Society for Conservation Biology and the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology. He also began teaching a field course in Kenya for Cornell undergraduate students, which he continues to teach, taking approximately 125 students to Africa over the past six years.
After completing his doctorate at Cornell in 2006, Rubenstein was awarded a Miller Research Fellowship to conduct postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley, working in the Department of Integrative Biology and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. During that time, he continued his work in Kenya, but also began studies of the complex social behavior of sponge-dwelling snapping shrimp in the Caribbean.
In 2009, Rubenstein began as an Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in New York City. Dustin also holds appointments as a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History, a Lab Associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a Visiting Lecturer at Cornell University, and a Visiting Scientist at the National Museums of Kenya.
Since completing his Ph.D., Rubenstein has been recognized as an outstanding young scientist on numerous occasions. He was given the Young Investigator’s Award by the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, the Young Scientists Award by Michigan University, and the Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award by the American Ornithologists’ Union.
Rubenstein has given lectures all over the world and published more than 30 scientific papers, as well as nearly a dozen popular articles in magazines like SEED, Natural History, and Scientific American. His research on the ecology and evolution of complex social behavior has been featured by top media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, US News & World Report, ABC News, and BBC Radio.
Dr. Rubenstein lives in New York City with his wife Kate and daughter Renna.