A Baptist President & a Catholic High School

Article excerpt

Students of a California High School Forge a Friendship With Prominent Residents of a Small Georgia Town

When former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter celebrated his milestone 85th birthday, he requested a Catholic high school choir to perform.

This relationship began back in October of 2004. Four students, another teacher and I from St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City, California, visited Atlanta to address the Character Education Forum. Knowing that President Carter teaches Sunday school any Sunday he is in Plains, I checked the schedule, and Io and behold, that weekend, he would be there. What a great opportunity for the students. We extended our stay through the weekend, rented a van and, when the conference ended, it was off to Plains.

The students literally moaned when we entered the town. "Mr. Horn, what are we going to do here the whole weekend," asked one student as they looked at the six stores in the downtown, the quiet railroad tracks and nary a car in sight.

"You're going to create your own fun, create your own opportunities, use your imagination, that's what you're going to do," I said. Within minutes after checking into the Plains Bed and Breakfast, the students were off like a flash, laughing as they went running down the street, not having to worry about traffic or crime. It was refreshing to see.

Almost immediately people began introducing themselves to us and were more than willing to regale us with stories about living in a town with a former president. It was fascinating enough that I thought we should document these stories as a project for our video production class.

A year later, we were back. This time, the group was larger. We had students behind the cameras, students conducting interviews, students with release forms. From the downtown, to the boyhood home of President Carter, to a party at the bed and breakfast with all the neighbors, we interviewed.

Months later, several of the citizens of Plains visited our school for a screening of Project Plains. Shortly after that, our choir went back to perform a concert for the good people of Plains. Not only was it our way of saying thank you for the incredible amount of cooperation we received in our documentary, it was a way for even more students to have an opportunity to experience the quaintness as well as the greatness of small-town life, as well as to meet a former president.

The first time the choir visited, they rehearsed on the stage of Plains High School, only to have Miss Betty enter and stop rehearsal. She let us know they had arranged a surprise for us back at the bed and breakfast and we should all run to see what it was.

As we approached the B&B, I noticed the black suburban waiting at the end of the block and secret service agents across the street and on the property of the B&B. My heart began to thump. This, I was not expecting.

Coach Manny and nvy assistant, Christian, were barbequing ribs in the back yard. Their faces both had stunned looks. "President Carter's here," Christian said. Manny told me that he was turning the ribs over on the giant grill in front of him and when the smoke cleared, there was President Carter smiling and telling him the ribs smelled good."

As we entered through the back door, there stood our former president in jeans and flannel shirt, with his signature smile, shaking hands and having a picture taken with every one of the 20-plus choir members who made the trip. …