“Dear Rosalynn” narrates life of Mrs. Carter, special relationship with St. Genevieve Parish Schools
Since leaving the White House, former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter moved back to and continue to live in Plains, Georgia, a quaint town nearly three hours from Atlanta with less than 1,000 residents.
While their contributions to charitable and humanitarian causes globally have been well documented, what most people may not know is the place they both consider the “greatest school in the United States.”
It’s an educational institution that happens to be in Panorama City, California, with a large Filipino-American student population.
How did their relationship with St. Genevieve Parish Schools blossom? It all started with a letter some 30 years ago.
In his early 20s, Dan Horn — who is currently the president and principal of the parish’s elementary, middle, and high schools — had written to Mrs. Carter that he would like to meet and go fishing with her one day (a hobby of hers he learned about in her autobiography). After meeting for the first time, Horn and Mrs. Carter have kept in touch decades later.
Over the years, the Carters have visited the school Horn now heads and likewise, students — like those in the jazz band and musical productions — have traveled to Plains to perform for the former first couple. When students asked Horn how he met the Carters, he told them about the letter and then challenged them to learn more about this woman he considers a “living saint.”
With these performances and visits documented, as well as subsequent travels students have made since 2012 to interview and tell Mrs. Carter’s story, Horn’s grand assignment led to a final product: “Dear Rosalynn,” a documentary about the former first lady told from the lens of the students.
“It’s as much unusual as it is surreal,” Filipino-American filmmaker Sean See narrates of the St. Genevieve-Carter relationship.
He continues, “While this documentary started as some educational, informative project, it’s now become a love letter for a human being who has dedicated her life to changing the world.”
See, who graduated from the school in 2012, took the lead of piecing together the footage from the past five years and finally making it into a film. He also received the assistance of his fellow students, Dominick Argana, Natasha Popowich, Kristen Rivas, Brandon Cayanan, Jayden See, and Isaiah Coronado.
“There was a point when I had nearly given up and didn’t think this film would be made,” Horn told the Asian Journal. “I had heard about one of our former students, Sean See, who graduated from San Francisco State University and had made films in the past. I asked if he had a job lined up and when he said no, I tasked him to finish it.”
The film — which also shows archived footage about the first lady’s life and work during and post White House years — made its debut on Friday, February 2 at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, which was attended by St. Genevieve parishioners, community members, and of course, the former first couple.
“When I wrote that letter 30 years ago, I really hoped and even dreamed for a response and that I would have the opportunity to meet Rosalynn Carter. But I could tell you that I never dreamed about a day like this, when we would all be here at the Rose Bowl and I have the honor and privilege of introducing to you someone who is now, and I am proud to say, my friend,” Horn told the audience at the Rose Bowl.
The principal shared that a friend had helped him secure the iconic stadium for the showing once the film had been completed.
Mrs. Carter, who addressed the crowd, said she was “overwhelmed with emotion” as the film highlighted “so many memories.”
“What these children have said about St. Genevieve being a happy place is so true…I think that if a student ever comes to St. Genevieve…I know that before they graduate from the school…they develop a great talent,” the former first lady said, adding that she’s gotten to know the school and its students for the past 12 years since Horn has been there.
She added, “The student did a great deal of research over the years. Now I have no secrets.”
After Mrs. Carter’s remarks, former President Carter led a prayer and thanked God for “letting [him] have Rosalynn for the last 72 years.”
See said that “at a certain point in the process of this film, I knew that the only person I was making this documentary for was you (Mrs. Carter)… The more I studied, the more I learned about you, the more I knew just how incredible of a human being you are. I’m lucky to have crafted your story and I like to think that I know a little bit more about you now so I hope I am not wrong in assuming that you really aren’t one to stop and admire the feats that you have made.”
“It’s about what’s next? What can I do next for people? What’s the next act of kindness I can do?” he added. “For everybody else, I just hope that when you watch this movie, you will grow to admire [Mrs. Carter], at least a fraction as much as I have.”
Audience members were entertained with a series of performances — from dances to instrumental numbers by different grades — which highlighted the school’s emphasis on “character-building educational programs” in addition to traditional curriculum.
“What people saw at the Rose Bowl was just our daily reality at St. Genevieve,” Horn shared. “For the rest of their lives, the students can talk about how they performed for a living president and first lady.”
Afterward, nearly 200 individuals stayed on for the VIP luncheon, which included photos with the Carters and more performances by students.
Proceeds from the luncheon are going toward the school’s $27-million “Inspiration Building” campaign to build a parish and performing arts center. The school is $2 million away and must raise that amount before it can move forward. It hopes to break ground by winter 2018.
The performing arts center is a 35,745-square foot facility that will house the schools’ instrumental music, choir and dance program. Meanwhile, the Parish Education and Fellowship Center is a 25,717-square foot wing that will contain a Community Hall.
Horn said that those who are patrons of the arts and believe in St. Genevieve’s mission may consider supporting this campaign.