I’m watching the sun rise over Interstate 10. It’s magnificent. My wife and I ride two hours until we land in Pace, Florida.
The high-school parking lot is full. The school is plain-looking, with Old Glory flying in front. The small campus sits across the road from a cotton field.
In the parking space beside me sits an old truck with Browning stickers on the back. Muddy tires.
This is Small-Town USA.
Miss Carrie gives us the dime tour. The school halls are lined with framed photos of seniors dating back to the Nixon administration. Each portrait is a history lesson in the evolution of bad American hairstyles.
“Our school’s special,” Miss Carrie says. “Our staff has tried really hard to make it this special.”
She leads us into the yearbook room. There’s a buffet loaded with biscuits, grits, and bacon.
My wife and I fix plates and meet the faculty. These are real folks—the sort with accents like your mama’s Wednesday night Bible-study group. Some teachers have been here forty years. Other are wet behind the ears. There’s something different about this lot.
They believe in this cinderblock building.
“You’re not gonna find many schools like us anymore,” says one woman. “We’re old-fashioned.”
Miss Carrie shows me a plaque with student names. “I want you to see our exceptional students.”
Exceptional. But not because of GPA’s. These are students who overcome adversity, who help others. The kinds of qualities Pace thinks are important.
She taps the plaque. “This girl had a cognitive disorder, she had to work twice as hard as other kids. We’re all really proud’a her. She deserves to be honored.”
This must be heaven.
So, why am I telling you about an ordinary high school, sitting behind a plow field? You already know why. Because this is the American South. And it’s precious.
Because this is a school with a hunting-fishing club that prints its own camouflage. Where teachers still call you “sweetie”—even when you’re in hot water. Where your principal knows your daddy personally, and your athletic director is the kind of moral gentleman you hope God might one day make you into.
This is a place where violence only happens on Friday-night fields. Where any child who hurts has real-life angels who will shake the earth for their cause.
“The way we see it,” says one woman. “We’re not just teachers, we’re the last line of defense. Our most important job is love. That’s how we better this world. That’s how we better America.”
When breakfast is over, I ask a teacher what the school mascot is. He shows me a red and blue logo on his shirt.
“We’re the Patriots,” he says.
Yes you are.
You certainly are.