T-Dawg Takeover

Yearbook Editor-in-Chief Discusses UIL, Future at Yale


Photo by Piper Hernandez

Showing off his State medal, senior Tristan Hernandez poses with his ILPC Editor of the year award. Hernandez was a part of the yearbook staff for three years and served as editor-in-chief his senior year, as well as lead the UIL Journalism team as captain to win the State Championship on May 6. “It was really nice to end my senior year by placing the highest and doing the best I have ever done,” Hernandez said. “I was also extremely excited to win the journalism team championship. Every member of the UIL Journalism team did so well, whether that be at an invitational or a UIL contest, and I’m so happy we did a full sweep of the District, Region and State Championships.”

Ally JohnPress, Editor-in-Chief

He texts like a sorority president. 

He is the president of Tau Psi Beta yearbook sorority and the captain of the UIL Journalism team. He is the editor-in-chief of the Tracks Yearbook. He was named the Interscholastic League Press Conference Editor of the year and the journalist of the year for Cedar Park.

Senior Tristan Hernandez is a force to be reckoned with.

“Winning ILPC Yearbook Editor is honestly the best way to end my senior year,” Hernandez said. “I’ve spent so much time on the yearbook and with my staff that this really goes beyond just writing or photography awards. It recognizes the experiences I have had with the staff these past three years.”

At the UIL Academic State Championship, held at University of Texas at Austin on May 6, Hernandez placed second in headline writing, third in editorial writing and fifth in news writing. The journalism team, consisting of Hernandez and junior Jaden Kolenbrander, also won the 5A Journalism Team State Championship.

“I was really excited when I found out I had placed in all of my events at State,” Hernandez said. “It was really nice to end my senior year by placing the highest and doing the best I have ever done. My advisor doesn’t tell me how I placed whenever results come out, so every single result was a surprise when they announced it, so I was shocked. I was also extremely excited to win the journalism team championship. Every member of the UIL Journalism team did so well, whether that be at an invitational or a UIL contest, and I’m so happy we did a full sweep of the District, Region and State Championships.”

Since his freshman year, Hernandez has advanced to and placed at the State meet multiple times. He won fourth place in editorial writing his freshmen year, won the virtual competition for editorial writing his sophomore year and placed third in headline writing and  sixth in editorial writing his junior year.

“When I started freshman year, I didn’t even know that I was going to compete, and District was the second competition I had ever done, so I was pretty much a novice at what I was doing,” Hernandez said. “Since then, I’ve done so many more invitations and different events other than editorial writing, so I’ve gotten to be a better journalist in yearbook and a better writer at communicating my thoughts. I’m super happy that I’ve ended up doing so well at these competitions that can be so subjective.”

Throughout high school, Hernandez has won first through sixth place in UIL State competitions. He was also honored as a member of the All-State Journalism Staff his junior year.

“I found it funny that at the State competition I’ve placed first through sixth each year throughout high school,” Hernandez said. “For every competition I’ve competed in at State I’ve always placed, and that in itself is a great accomplishment. I now have the full set of State medals that I can keep with me to remember this experience.”

In addition to leading the UIL Journalism team as captain, Hernandez has been on the yearbook staff for the past three years and served as an editor for two years.

“Yearbook has been my favorite class throughout high school, and sometimes I’ve worked up to 30 hours a week doing something for this class, and I really loved it,” Hernandez said. “I really like every single person on staff and I’m excited to see what they do next year. As Editor-in-Chief this year, I try to make sure that I’m not just making edits to my staffers’ spreads, but that they’re actually learning how to improve. I really wanted to make myself available for all their questions and make sure I was ready to help out, no matter what.” 

As a yearbook staffer, Hernandez worked on designing his yearbooks spreads and writing all the content including captions, headlines and stories. 

“I really like writing stories for the book, like the ones I did over the four-time band championships or stress of high schoolers,” Hernandez said. “I also like design, but it doesn’t come as easily to me as writing or photography does because it’s very artistic. Headlines for yearbook are pretty fun to write as well because we can make them puns or song lyrics or something funny. My favorite one this year was probably ‘Do You Get Deja Vu?’ for the girls basketball spread, which was an allusion to an Olivia Rodrigo song. There’s a lot of work that goes into the book that people don’t really get to see, and each spread takes me about a month to complete and it is really a lot of small, meticulous details that take a while to perfect.”

As a member of the yearbook staff, Hernandez is required to do four overtimes, or photographing out-of-school events, every six weeks. 

“By far my favorite part of yearbook are the photography overtimes we have to do because I get to go to events that I would not have normally gone to and stand on the sidelines,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been to the girls basketball state game, every Celebrity show, most theatre plays and about a dozen football games, which were my favorite because I got to be on the sidelines during ‘Metalshop.’ I love going to these events as a reporter because I get to stand on the sidelines for the game or get as close to the stage as I want, which wouldn’t be possible as a regular viewer. It’s also really cool to see the amazing things all my friends and classmates can do and take photos of them.”

Last year, Hernandez’s first year as a content editor was met with certain difficulties due to the pandemic and virtual schooling. 

“When I became a content editor, I was told the first day of my junior year over a Zoom call,” Hernandez said. “It was nerve-wracking because I was left without the old editors, Madison and Megan, who made the decisions for me, and this was a whole different school system that I wasn’t used to. I was even nervous to unmute myself to talk about the theme because I genuinely had no idea what I was doing. Over the course of my junior year, I tried my best to lead my team without ever seeing them or having any previous leadership experience. I did manage to help our staff make the book, writing theme copy and editing spreads, but I never felt the same connection as in my previous year.”  

The yearbook staff faced several difficulties during virtual learning, including switching from making the book on Adobe InDesign to Studioworks and lacking the ability to conduct in-person interviews. Hernandez decided to go in-person his junior year during the pandemic to help make the yearbook in the classroom.

“I knew I was going to be in-person the second they announced that we had an option,” Hernandez said. “There needed to be someone in the classroom to make the decisions for the book and photograph whatever events were going on in the school. It was definitely a struggle, making the Roll With It book, but that’s why that theme fits so well for that year. Instead of our photo calendar on the classroom whiteboard, we used a Google Sheet to track events. Instead of daily meetings, I just had a group chat with my team, which is where the ‘sorority’ text messages that I’m infamous for on the staff originated from. Thank you Paisley for that one.”

Back with everyone in-person for this school year, Hernandez transitioned to an editor-in-chief role on the staff, and he said his goal was to unite the staff after the virtual year. He said the nickname the staff uses for him, ‘T-Dawg,’ is his biggest accomplishment in reaching this goal. 

  “I really wanted to bring back that family atmosphere we had back in my sophomore year, and I think I accomplished that,” Hernandez said. “Of course, we made an amazing yearbook that looks so slay, but also, we had an amazing staff that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. From going to get ‘banana bread’ to conducting a formal investigation of who broke my favorite pop-it, I have loved every second I have spent with my staff. I’m sad to leave them, but I know they will do amazing next year without me.”

As editor, Hernandez is responsible for correcting any spelling or grammatical errors, checking photo quality, making sure the yearbook design stays consistent throughout the year and working to make sure courage is equitable between people and groups.

“I love to edit spreads because I get to use my favorite orange gel pen all across the page,” Hernandez said. “It’s a tiring task, going through all the pages, but I really do enjoy it. There are some difficulties, as sometimes my handwriting is hard to read, but I am always willing to work with the staffers on what they messed up on. I think the hardest part of being the editor is making sure the design stays the same from August to March and making sure no person or group is used too much. I make sure the staff keeps track of who they used on their pages to try and ensure everyone gets mentioned in the yearbook somewhere.”

Hernandez started journalism in middle school as a member of the Cedar Park Middle School yearbook, the Spotlight yearbook, and he decided to join the high school’s journalism department by taking Introduction to Mass Media his freshman year.

“Looking at my middle school yearbook now, it’s crazy to see how much I’ve grown,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to lie, I was not the best yearbook staffer back then. I had a November deadline yet I didn’t even know how to log in to the computers to make the yearbook until January. I think that once I got into high school, I started to take everything a bit more seriously and really started to care about what the yearbook looked like.”

Hernandez has also won several ILPC awards, which is UIL’s branch for journalism in Texas. He won first place in sports-focused spread, headlines, club and organization spread and twice for his stories, as well as placing in portrait, sports feature photo and twice for his photo portfolios. 

“My two favorite stories I’ve ever written are ‘Look, Mom, I Can Fly,’ which is about at the time sophomore Kierstyn Born playing Icarus in the band show and ‘At the Breaking Point,’ which was in this year’s yearbook and was about the stress of high school students,” Hernandez said. “With these stories, I was given a lot of freedom to tell them how I wanted to, and was able to put them in the yearbook with either a cool headline or a nice design. I also am really proud of my varsity football spread from this year because it pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of the interviews and design, and it also made me learn the rules of football. All of the ILPC awards I have won are nice because I put a lot of work into every spread and story I make.”

He was also the co-president of the Quill & Scroll Journalism Honor Society for two years along with senior Ally JohnPress. Hernandez and JohnPress co-wrote a Best of SNO article, “Uptown Dunk” about the two-time State Champion Lady Timberwolves.

“Junior year, Ally and I just started up the club again after the pandemic ended it,” Hernandez said. “We really wanted to be more involved in journalism and while it was journalism-related, Quill & Scroll taught me different skills than reporting did. It also required me to keep in contact with the newspaper and broadcast, which yearbook doesn’t really work with that often due to the nature of the program. We made a great team and it was great to be able to host some volunteer opportunities and even write an award-winning article together.”

Outside of journalism, Hernandez is the senior class representative for Key Club, treasurer for the Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society and a member of National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and National English Honor Society.

“Sometimes I think I overbooked myself with the amount of club meetings I have to go to, but I do really enjoy being a part of these organizations with my friends and serving as leader in some of them,” Hernandez said. “Some of my favorite volunteer events were the Cypress and Deer Creek winter events I did for Key Club because I got to help little kids make crafts and it was truly a great experience to see their faces when they were done. All of these organizations have taught me how to manage my time and stay organized through these past two years.”

Hernandez is ranked seventh in the senior class and is an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Commended and Hispanic Scholar. 

“I’ve always been focused on my academics and strived throughout high school to get the best grades that I could,” Hernandez said. “Freshman year, I was ranked No. 17 and I’m still really proud of that rank because that meant I got automatic admission to any Texas university, which is all I wanted. Since then, I guess I just took a bunch of AP classes and tried to do my best in each and every one of them. It’s nice to rank in the top ten graduates because it recognizes the hard work and endless amounts of homework I’ve done these past four years.”

He was also recognized as one of three seniors along with Katie Smith and Sabrina Blount for the Leander Educational Excellence Foundation, or LEEF, Star award. Recipients get to choose a teacher who was helpful in their education to honor at the LEEF Gala, and Hernandez honored journalism teacher Paige Hert.

“When I got the LEEF award, I was kind of surprised that my teachers noticed me and nominated me to receive this award,” Hernandez said. “It was nice to know that even beyond doing well on tests or assignments, I was a good person in the classroom and helpful to my peers. Once I knew I had to choose a teacher, I immediately knew I was going to choose Hert. She has helped me every step of the way through high school, whether in journalism or in yearbook, and I ask her like five million questions a day, which she is always ready to answer.”

At the senior recognition ceremony, he received the department award in print journalism and the Leader of the Pack award.

“I had no idea the Leader of the Pack award even existed, so winning it was kind of slay,” Hernandez said. “The way they announced the awards, they announced Ally’s name first so my friends and I were all yelling for her and we were super hyped. Then they said my name right after, and it was so cool to win that award with her. We both do a lot, not only leading our respective journalism staffs, but contributing to the classroom and the school community in honor societies and clubs. She definitely deserves this award and it’s nice to know we both can share it.”

In the fall, Hernandez will be attending Yale University to study ethics, politics and economics, or EP&E.

“I never expected to get into the Ivy League, much less my dream school, particularly because I said ‘Real Hot Girl S#@%’ in my application,” Hernandez said. “I’m super excited because Yale has the exact major that I want because it combines all my interests, and it has a very academic environment and strong journalism extracurriculars that I would love to take part in. This is very much a different path than what I planned out for myself when I was a freshman, because back then I thought I was dead set on University of Texas for journalism, but I would argue that this future is a better fit for me.”

Hernandez went to visit New Haven for Yale’s Bulldog Days in early April, and he said he plans to write for one of their journalism publications in the fall.

“Yale’s campus was beautiful and definitely gave off dark academia vibes, which was the No. 1 factor in my college decision,” Hernandez said. “In all seriousness, though, I really loved all the people there, and I got to sit in on some classes that were very interesting like Bioethics and the Law. Plus, the food definitely lives up to the hype on TikTok. I also got to meet with The Yale Daily News and The Politic, two on campus news organizations, and I am looking forward to writing for one or both of them this coming fall.”

For the future, Hernandez is undecided in his career. He is debating going into journalism, law or politics.   

“I don’t really know what I want to do exactly with my career, but I definitely have some interests in news and politics,” Hernandez said. “I really want to do something that combines some aspects of journalism and politics, like writing for a political magazine or running campaign communications. I also am looking into law school because Yale has a great law school that I visited while I was there. I’ve always been analytical and detail-oriented, so I think something to do with being a lawyer would suit me well.”

According to Hernandez, he is proud of what he accomplished in high school, and he looks forward to what he can do in college.

“I am proud of how I spent my high school years and really feel like I took advantage of every opportunity that was afforded to me,” Hernandez said. “I started off really awkward and uncomfortable in social situations my freshman year, but I feel like I found my place in high school and was able to find the groups that I wanted to be around. Being honored by the Leader of the Pack Award or the ILPC Yearbook Editor of the Year means a lot to me not just because I won, but because I never thought I would be in charge of people and have a positive impact. I worked hard to be where I am today, and I am ready for whatever Yale has in store for me.”