The comedian hailed by America’s Got Talent creator Simon Cowell as the next Tina Fey is a sophomore taking AP classes and wearing a Catholic school girl uniform—except when she’s auditioning, acting, or giving media interviews.
But even when she is just out-and-about in her hometown of Lancaster, she likes to sport her school’s spirit-wear, a stylemove that has generated some buzz for Paraclete High School since her fans are quick to recognize her—and her school pride.
Lori Mae Hernandez is a 2016 America’s Got Talent semi-finalist, who competed as a standup comic. Conan O’Brien was so impressed with her standup routine (at the time she was 13 years old and writing her own jokes) that he showed a clip of her performance during Conan. His audience roared and applauded with as much enthusiasm as the reality TV judges. “She killed it,” O’Brien said.
Lori, now 15, is juggling her straight-A academic life with the life of an actor. Over the summer, she completed the pilot episode of Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, a Freeform production with director Rebecca Thomas (Stranger Things). Most weeks include multiple auditions in Los Angeles and playing catch-up on homework and school assignments, interspersed with acting gigs.
Although many actors with her resume decide to ditch the high school experience to homeschool, this was never an option for Lori. Her pride for Paraclete is in her blood. Both her parents, Karen and Rick, are alumni and decades-long teachers at Paraclete—Karen teaching art and Rick teaching drama and film. “Paraclete has been my life for my whole life,” Lori says.
Assistant Principal Nadine Nichter-Seidel says the Paraclete school values are reflected in Lori’s humor. “Sometimes her humor goes into the sarcastic realm, but it’s still funny and tasteful,” she says. “I think that’s part of the upbringing she’s had with both Karen and Rick having graduated from Paraclete and having instilled in her those common core beliefs that we are good to people.”
Both parents are heavily involved in student activities. Rick is the activities director and has directed almost 100 school plays while Karen is the school photographer and has managed the school yearbook for twenty years.
Ever since Lori was a baby, both parents have needed to stay late after school to help with extra-curricular activities, leading them to find creative ways to incorporate their young daughter into school events.
“I was basically born in one of the classrooms,” Lori jokes. “It’s been my second home forever.” Karen brought Lori to school rallies ever since she was born, and Lori was only two years old when she was in her first high school production.
Her director dad dressed her as a miniature tin man for comedic effect in a production of The Wiz. “I just dressed up like the tin man and just followed the tin man around,” Lori explains. “I’ve been in everything since then.”
Rick and Karen are just one example of parents at Paraclete whose involvement makes the school feel like family. “The heart of the school is absolutely family,” Karen says. “Everyone cares about each other, everyone has always known everyone’s names, the staff cares about each other.”
“It just feels like home,” she adds. “We try to make it feel like home for everyone else. That’s a goal for our family.”
The drama program is one way to bring together students who wouldn’t normally associate with each other. Karen says of her husband: “His forte is working with kids that don’t normally do drama—the football players, the really shy kids.”
Rick also wants to include as many students as possible in each school play and so each play has multiple casts. Students can sign up for multiple casts, meaning that one night a student will play the lead and then the next night the same student will be a background actor.
The benefits of getting students to perform on stage are noticeable. “You see it change their lives,” Karen says. “It’s just such an accomplishment to stand up and perform in front of people. You really see them grow as kids.”
Although many actors decide against college, Lori’s post-high school plans are the same as her classmates. “I know I want to go to college,” she says. Karen explains, “We don’t say: Are you going to college? We say: Which college are you going to?”
At the moment Lori is debating between film school and a writing program. Cowell’s comment that Lori could be the next Tina Fey struck a chord with her. “I love Tina Fey. She writes her own stuff,” she says. “That’s what I want to do.” Her “general plan” she says is to write, act and create her own content.
The academic program at Paraclete has allowed students to go on to study at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley (to name a few). But Principal John Anson says college is just one of the goals for his students. Paraclete faculty, he says, have two jobs in life: get our kids into Heaven and get our kids into college.
Based on the evidence, it seems Principal Anson’s plan is working.