Sacramento and Hollywood aren’t traditional bedfellows. Visitors call the California capital a “cow town,” with a sneer. Before Greta Gerwig, the city’s most famous daughter was Joan Didion—and both were best known for absconding for New York City.

But that has changed this year, thanks to the success of Lady Bird—Gerwig’s loving, five-time Oscar-nominated homage to her (and my) hometown. In Lady Bird, Gerwig treats Sacramento with tenderness, as if it were a breathing character itself. The film’s opening is a meditation on the valley’s shimmering fields as well as a sharp comedic prologue; later, lead actress Saoirse Ronan ambles along peaceful sidewalks dappled with sunlight. The late-afternoon glow turns the river gold. Even pedestrian liquor stores are bathed in gentle placidity.

During a recent morning run, I stumbled upon a Lady Birdwalking tour that leads onlookers past the film’s towering blue house, with a stop at Club Raven dive bar and the rose garden where Danny declines second base. In January, the Sacramento Beereported that local company Marquee Media had erected 11 billboards congratulating Gerwig, simply because the co-owner and his wife loved the film.

And on Oscar night, I’ll join a well-heeled crowd to walk the red carpet in a pink chiffon column dress with spaghetti straps, smiling graciously as cameras flash. Only the dress is my old prom dress, the carpet will be rented, and I’ll be spending the evening at St. Francis High School, the real-life inspiration for the all-girls Catholic academy in Lady Bird.

The party was organized in honor of Gerwig, St. Francis class of 2002. To say the school is proud of her accomplishment is a vast understatement: the first thing visitors see when they walk into its administrative office is a Lady Bird poster—prominently displayed beneath a crucifix and a photo of the pope. In a recent email, Gerwig said that she texts regularly with her high school’s president, Theresa Rodgers, who alerts Gerwig when students offer her name in prayer. (After buying a $25 ticket to the high school’s Oscar party, I noticed that even the event’s confirmation number is Gerwig’s name in code: GRTGRWGCLBRTNKJE001J.)

The Lady Bird poster under the crucifix at the school’s entrance.

By Stephanie Buck.

Gerwig herself, of course, will be otherwise engaged on March 4—but the party will feature a cardboard cutout of the best-director nominee posing for photos, says MaryAnne Kelly, director of advancement at St. Francis. Her team is also working with the arts department and patrons to put together a video compilation of Gerwig’s time in high school, specifically highlights from her roles in theater productions like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Apple Tree. They’ll also play the Academy Awards telecast live in the gymnasium, on four or five big screens; the school rented a state-of-the art audio system and lighting scheme for the occasion. They expect 350 guests. The mayor is invited.

“It’s going to be uniquely St. Francis, uniquely Sacramento,” says Kelly. “The atmosphere will be spectacular,” something befitting Gerwig’s ode to her community.

“All of a sudden, you have permission to say, ‘I’m from Sacramento,’ ” says Cheryl Watson, Gerwig’s high-school theater teacher and the current S.F.H.S. performing and visual-arts chair. “She wanted Sacramento to have the spotlight. She really wanted it.”

After the Golden Globes—where Lady Bird and Ronan both won awards—Watson sent her former student a congratulatory e-mail. “She didn’t have to send me a note back with a happy face, saying, ‘You’re my first acting teacher!’ She didn’t have to do any of that. I didn’t even expect a reply,” says Watson, with evident pride that Gerwig e-mailed back the following day.

“I adore Sacramento, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that I was able to photograph my beautiful city in Lady Bird,” Gerwig wrote to Vanity Fair. “It was a dream come true, and I am just so happy that people all over the world are identifying with it, even if they have never been there. It really drives home the idea that the more specific you make something, the more universal it becomes.” (Gerwig added her own section of “thank-yous,” which included Watson and Ed Trafton, the drama teacher at Jesuit, Sacramento’s all-boys Catholic school.)

A *Lady Bird* bulletin board St. Francis High School designed in congratulations; Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on set.

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A Lady Bird bulletin board St. Francis High School designed in congratulations; Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on set.

Top, courtesy of Grace Conlin/SFHS; bottom, from ©A24/Everett Collection.

And for the St. Francis community, the film represents more than a claim to fame: “It really touches on the beauty of the sisterhood of an all-girl Catholic education,” says Rodgers, as well as the truth of growing up in the early aughts. (As an S.F.H.S. freshman when Gerwig was a senior, I can attest that Dave Matthews Band was stuck in my head for two solid years.)

Watson says she gets texts and e-mails from numerous alumnae—women who graduated as early as the 80s and as late as the 2010s—all saying how much the film resonated with and inspired them. A few former students in Chicago and the East Coast asked if they should fly out for the school’s Oscar party.

Watson will attend, even though she’ll be in the middle of dress rehearsals for the school’s spring production, 2 Gentlemen of Verona. She is still pondering what to wear. On the Facebook event page, the school encourages attendees to dress in thrift-store attire, à la Lady Bird herself; Thrift Town, where the film’s protagonist shops with her mother in the film, is offering 50-percent-off vintage dresses through Oscar Sunday.

The gym plans to serve popcorn, sliders, and ice cream from Gunther’s—another local institution that makes a cameo in the film’s closing vignette. No doubt many attendees will also wear the “I <3 Lady Bird” buttons now common around campus; Kelly says Gerwig’s parents bring the buttons on their frequent visits to St. Francis.

“If—I shouldn’t say ‘if’—when [Gerwig] wins, the roof is gonna come off the gym,” says Rodgers—especially if she secures best director. Gerwig is just the fifth woman ever to be nominated for the award, and the first in eight years; she would be the second woman to win.

“It’s just a happy time,” Watson adds, leading me out of the faculty lounge to show off a bulletin board the school has been displaying for weeks. “Congratulations Greta Gerwig,” it reads, alongside curious flyers containing hybrid bird-human illustrations: “Vote Lady Bird.”

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