Alumnus Christian Fernandez (’16) lives in Staunton, VA, two hours away from campus, and commutes every day to coach Mock Trial and serve as adjunct professor of Rhetoric & Composition and Recitation. While in the area, he directs Shakespeare plays with Jupiter Theater Company, of which he is the founder.
After graduating, he married his wife Lauren (’17) and began studying for a master's in Letters of Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton. Though he still lives in Staunton, he thinks PHC is worth the drive. “It’s a dream come true,” he said. “My heart is here … It’s very nice to have a smile every day coming into work.”
“The thing I love about PHC is the fostering of imagination. Faith is imaginative—not imaginative in a blind way, in a hopeful and trusting way. The thing I love about the curriculum here is that we’re fostering that imagination. We’re allowing people to understand that man is depraved, but that there’s still that Imago Dei.”
He carries out this idea of faith and imagination in his classes. “With Recitation,” he continued, “It’s so easy to think of it as a memory class. I tell my students, 'Do not think of this as a public speaking class. It’s not. All public speaking requires is you speaking in front of an audience.' The poetry that we’re reciting and the orations and history that we’re reciting, it’s all rhetoric. There’s a persuasive power to it. I tell my students to look for the argument. It’s not regurgitating text; it’s impressing upon people the language and the ideas of the text.”
As the head mock trial coach, Fernandez is a key element in the new forensics program structure. He is one of three head coaches, working under Director Susan Johnson's leadership. Fernandez is working closely with Mock Trial Assistant Coach Mackenzi Ehrett, Associate Counsel to the President of the United States in the White House Counsel’s Office.
“In the past, students would come in and they would have [a skill], or they wouldn’t,” Fernandez said. “We had quite a successful run, but for longevity purposes, you need to make sure that when talent graduates, the next talent is ready to go.” As the head coach, he focuses most of his time on PHC’s top two teams, but he is still attentive to the lower-ranked teams. This way he can track the progress of the students who will move to the top after the others graduate. Forensics Director Susan Johnson focuses on the middle two teams, and Student Coach Kyle Ziemnick focuses on the lower teams. This way, no team goes without support and supervision.
“Dr. Guliuzza had a great way of running the program, and it was his way. I have a different style,” Fernandez said. “I will never claim to be as good as Dr. G, because he was phenomenal, but, at the same time … you can’t try to be someone you’re not, and you need to respect the tradition. You need to respect what has worked in the past.”
The new team of coaches continue using the methods that worked in the past and try to approve upon the methods that need upgrading. “We try to make practices hard so that the actual trial is easy,” Fernandez said. “We have a lot of scrimmages, and then what we do—and this is the distinction from the past—is we then have debriefing sessions, so all the little nuances don’t get passed over. Then we put it into practice again, and we debrief, and so on."
Aside from working in three developmental areas of the college, Fernandez is facing a two-play winter season. He is directing Love's Labor's Lost , which will take place directly pre-Napoleonic wars, and Much Ado About Nothing, which will take place directly post-Napoleonic wars. "We’re setting two plays in conversation with each other about this idea of love stories first set before and then after war," he explained.
“Mock Trial is an unparalleled way to learn courtroom etiquette, to gain confidence as an advocate, and to work as a team to perfect your case. It provides what mere lectures cannot: realistic practice for life beyond the classroom.”
– Ryan McDonald, Government, Class of 2016 –
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Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.