UNC graduate and Miami Herald writer Jacqueline Charles has been selected to give the commencement speech for the spring 2019 graduating class of the UNC School of Media and Journalism.
Born in Grand Turk to a Haitian mother, Charles began her journalism career at the age of 14 at the Miami Herald, where she currently serves as the Caribbean correspondent. She accepted a scholarship to attend UNC, where she received her B.A. in journalism in 1994 while working as an editorial board member at The Daily Tar Heel.
“She started as a reporter, writing for the same newspaper she does now. She does documentaries, radio, and social media. She represents the future,” said Susan King, dean of the UNC School of Media and Journalism.
Charles has won several awards for her work, including the NABJ Journalist of the Year following her 15-month tenure in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
In July, she won Columbia Journalism School's Maria Moors Cabot Prize, awarded to journalists who cover the Americas, for her reporting on Haiti.
"It is the highest and most prestigious award," said King. "This is a big deal award, and it seemed like the perfect year to have her come. She is dynamic, understands politics, international affairs, and her life story can engage young people."
Upon receiving the invitation to speak at commencement, Charles knew what her decision would be.
“Oh my God! It was totally unexpected, a huge honor," said Charles. "As a student at the J-school at Carolina, I always enjoyed whenever my professors, especially one in particular, Harry Amana, he would always invite working journalists who are also graduates of the school to come back in to talk to us. And so I just remember sitting in his class and just saying, 'My God, I hope one day I get invited back.' I just thought that was sort of like the pinnacle of my career, and just saying, 'Wow, okay. You know what? I really am a journalist.'”
Maryam Mohamed, a senior within the School of Media and Journalism, said she is excited for Charles to come.
"I think she has some interesting work, and I’ve been a big fan of her stuff for several years," said Mohamed. "I really look at her as an inspiration.”
As students prepare to leave UNC and enter the professional arena, Charles serves as an example of a successful journalist of color reporting on international affairs.
"You know, we are going through challenging times, but we will survive," said Charles. "There's always a need for our professions, for communicators, for truth finders, for people who are going today and sort of set the record straight, so to speak.”
Graduates, parents, students and community members will gather on May 11 in Carmichael Arena to celebrate the graduates.
“So knowing what impact that had on me personally as a student in the journalism school, and to be able to be in a position today to give that back and show my fight, my experience, my trajectory, could somehow have an impact on this year's graduates, it's a huge honor," Charles said. "I've gotten to go up (to Chapel Hill) to a few (commencements) over the years, but this actually tops it.”
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