A sign on the outskirts of Jewell, Iowa, greets visitors with the homey slogan, “A Gem in a Friendly Setting.” By the railroad tracks that bisect Main Street, a grain silo stands as a totem of the soybean and corn fields that tickle the yards at the town limits. The population recorded by the census of 1990—the year after my family moved to Jewell when I was 13—was 1,106. South Hamilton High School, housed in a low building at the edge of town, launched me into the world every way it could, even hiring me as an office assistant to give me a little spending money. My calculus teacher tutored me during her free period. My English teacher directed me on independent study projects. The guidance counselor coached me through the college application process and, at one point, put me up in his home while my family was out of town. The summer after I graduated, my family moved away, and I left for an East Coast college. I’ve been back once.