Student Journalist Becomes News Maker as Outstanding Grad

Palm Beach Atlantic University student journalist Chris Hernandez always enjoys spotting people reading the campus newspaper, but he finds it even more gratifying when he hears people discussing the articles within it.

“I see people interacting with the newspaper,” said Hernandez, a graduating senior who has served as managing editor of The Beacon for three semesters. “This is what the student newspaper is about.”

On Saturday, Hernandez, a journalism major who is minoring in biblical studies, will be recognized as the Outstanding Graduate of the School of Communication and Media during Palm Beach Atlantic University’s fall commencement. The ceremony begins at 2 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

PBA student Chris Hernandez, center, works with journalists at The Palm Beach Post during his internship. Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) is a private, accredited, Christ-centered college located in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
PBA student Chris Hernandez, center, works with journalists at The Palm Beach Post during his internship.

As the senior student leader of The Beacon, Hernandez and his creative team oversaw a major redesign of the newspaper and its website. They also introduced new concepts like the Beacon Bachelor and the Beacon Bash, an event that brought different groups of people together.

“I want the students involved as much as possible,” Hernandez said. “We’re a bunch of college students with a bunch of stories.”

His own story is still evolving. A native of Puerto Rico who grew up in New York City, Hernandez moved with his family to South Carolina during his pre-teen years, and he graduated from Porter-Gaud preparatory school in Charleston. His interests included English and musical theatre, but he also enjoyed science. He enrolled in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as a physics major.

During his second semester there, he changed his major to journalism. Earlier, he had been chosen to be a student blogger for the university.

However, his experience was far from idyllic. Throughout his freshman year he struggled with depression and risky behaviors and he even contemplated suicide. “I felt isolated and displaced from everything,” Hernandez recalled.

That all changed one day during a conversation with a friend from his Bible study group, he said. “It took him to say God loves you and there’s a purpose for you” for things to change, he said. On Easter of that year, Hernandez gave his life back to Christ.

Afterward, he decided to seek out a Christian university and found PBA through the College Board website. “I was cultivating a new life for myself,” he said.

At PBA, he became active in the Impact Leadership Team and became a resident assistant. He later was chosen to be an assistant resident director. However, he still was growing in his faith journey, and he eventually stepped down from some of his leadership roles, he said.

He then focused his energy on the newspaper. “God gave me what I desired, but in a different form,” he said.

His favorite Beacon stories have been the ones he wrote about students who have served in the military. “They’ve gone through this whole different life that we haven’t gone through,” he said.

The first story he did on the topic prompted him to ask questions about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a subject of interest to him because of his own struggles with depression, he said.

He said he also enjoyed “the zany pieces” he wrote for the paper, such as the article he did on the zombie march in downtown West Palm Beach and a breast cancer awareness story about the “pink bra ladies.”

Hernandez recently completed a multimedia journalism internship at The Palm Beach Post. After graduation, he is moving back to New York City to attend graduate school and reconnect with a church where he interned for two summers. He said he hopes to earn a master’s degree in journalism.

“I think there’s so much more to journalism for me to learn,” he said.