It took Peachtree City Assistant Police Chief Stan Pye 3 decades but his long journey to a college degree ended with a joint walk with his son at GMC graduation; finding your ‘why’ —
There’s something extra to celebrate at the Father’s Day cookout at Stan Pye’s home this weekend.
Stan, Peachtree City’s assistant police chief and a 29-year veteran of the department, and his youngest son, Zachary, walked across the stage together Saturday, June 1, earning degrees from Georgia Military College.
For both men, the journey to this milestone included some stops and starts, some giving up, and some starting over before they found the “why” that propelled them across the finish line. For Stan, the journey lasted more than 30 years. He’s 58 years old. Zach is 22.
Stan dropped out of high school in his senior year in LaGrange, Ga. He admits he was “somewhat of a hell-raiser.”
He had every intention of being productive, but college was never a consideration. Most of his friends were headed to blue collar jobs in manufacturing or civil service.
“The way I was raised, there was a lot of stock put in having a good job and being able to support a family,” Stan says. “I tell everybody all the time, ‘I grew up in the Archie Bunker household.’ I mean, I truly did. It was very important to have a good job where you worked hard and went home at the end of the day, knowing you could support your family. College never really entered my mind.”
He joined the Army and served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, N.C., where he earned a GED.
“That was a big deal for me,” he says. “I remember calling home and bragging to my mom and dad, ‘Hey, I’ve got my high school diploma now.’”
He loved the Army and intended to be a “lifer,” but after two injuries, he came home to LaGrange where he began his nearly 35-year career in law enforcement.
“Back then all you had to do was go in and interview with the chief,” Stan says. “You might fill out a one-page application, but as long as the chief liked you, you pretty much got the job. College still wasn’t a huge deal then, not with cops.”
But there were a couple of people on the team in LaGrange that he admired for their knowledge and vision for the future. Inspired by them to further his education, he enrolled in LaGrange College.
He took three or four courses before life got in the way.
“My annual salary was around $12,000 a year, and that was with three kids. I had to work a whole lot of off-duty jobs to stay off of food stamps. I didn’t have the money for college, so it fell by the wayside.”
His career was on track, though. He was on the SWAT team. He formed the department’s Honor Guard. He immersed himself in his work and in 1990 he joined the Peachtree City Police Department as a patrolman.
“When I came to Peachtree City, of course, Major [Mike] Dupree was here and Chief [James] Murray. And they really started talking to me saying, look, if you want to do anything further in your career than being a sergeant, you’re going to have to go back and get your degree.”
Heeding their direction, he began taking classes he enjoyed at Griffin Technical College. This time he was sidetracked by a divorce.
He continued to progress in the department pretty quickly, though, making corporal and becoming a training officer. He earned stars and stripes when he took the promotions board and passed the sergeant’s exam.
“I was like wow. This is incredible.”
Before long, he passed the lieutenant’s board.
Meanwhile, he remarried, had two more children, and gained custody of his first three kids. With an annual salary of no more than $20,000, when something had to go, college took the hit.
“With five kids and all of them two years apart, you’ve got t-ball, football, cheerleading, band. Guess what? You’ve got to work extra jobs to make money to afford to pay for all of that stuff.”
Now and then, he would take a class, but mainly he worked.
“I found myself in a trap that a lot of people do,” Stan says. “When you go to college on your own dime, and you’re having to pay for it, and you skip around colleges, because of a move or family situations or whatever, a lot of the classes aren’t transferable.”
It was frustrating, having to retake the same classes.
“I was hard-headed and gave up,” he says.
In 2012, a near miracle occurred. Stan was accepted to Columbus State University’s Command College, a master’s level course which generally requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. Although he had accumulated 80 or 90 hours of college credits by then, he had not yet even earned an associate’s.
“I was blown away, but I was scared to death too. I hadn’t even taken any bachelors level classes at the time, much less a masters level class.”
“The first paper I ever wrote in my life was in Command College,” he remembers. “They asked me to write a term paper, and I thought, ‘what are you talking about? What’s a term paper?’ I had never written a term paper in my life.”
“I can write policy all day but writing a paper on literature? Oh my gosh!”
He completed the program, though, and did well. When it came time to graduate, however, he watched his cohorts walk across the stage from the sidelines. They earned masters degrees. Stan received a certificate of completion.
That was depressing, he says, but a powerful motivator.
In 2014, he went back to class, but on Jan. 1, 2015, everything stopped when he received the call that his boss had accidentally shot his wife during the night. Peachtree City’s “shot reported ‘round the world” ultimately landed now Captain Stan Pye in the position of acting police chief.
“Absolutely nothing was more important to me than to make sure that department never missed a beat and never skipped in the services they were delivering to Peachtree City,” Stan says. Once again, college had to wait.
“I literally put my life on hold. I lived, ate, and slept that department for eight months and not just me, the whole command staff. We all came together, and we held that department in a good place.”
But when he was told he could interview for the chief’s job but that he wouldn’t get it because he didn’t have a master’s degree?
“But I couldn’t blame anybody but myself. I wasn’t trying to do a Pye Pity Party. I’m the one who didn’t go back to college all those years and didn’t get my degree. I’m the one who didn’t do it right.”
Before a new chief was hired, Stan enrolled in The Southern Police Institute, a prestigious, very intensive 15-week course. He completed the course in the top 10 percent of his class.
“I haven’t done horribly in school, it’s just getting there that’s killed me.”
And when the chief’s position was filled, Stan went back to school. Again.
“It gave me a chief again so that I could go back and say, ‘okay, it’s time to finish.’”
But perhaps not for the reasons you may be thinking. Stan found a “why” that had nothing to do with promotions or missed opportunities.
Of his five children, only his daughter saw the value in higher education. She is a Certified Public Accountant.
Over the holidays, not that long ago, Stan had a chat with his four sons.
“I said, ‘All of y’all got decent jobs now, but I am telling you, the workforce has changed dramatically. If you’re going to become a supervisor or manager in your field, you’re going to have to get that degree. If you don’t do it now, you’re going to be like your dad and wait until you’re 45 or 48 years old and then you’re going to forget everything that you thought you knew in school. Plus life will take over. You’ll wake up one day. You’ll have three or four kids, and you won’t have enough money for college.’”
“I’ll never forget it. My boys confronted me. They go, ‘Dad, look, we understand what you’re saying but look at you. You’ve done very well for yourself. You’re making good money, and you never had to go to college.’”
He knew they would never see or understand the sacrifices it took to get to where he is.
“You can’t do it in today’s world. There’s too many people with master’s degrees and even doctorate degrees competing for positions like mine.”
“It took me losing out on a lot of home time, missing a lot of ballgames, even birthday parties because I was working, trying to make that name for myself. It did work out well for me. But looking back, I could have accomplished so much more in my career and moved on to bigger and better things had I just buckled down years back and finished.”
That moment of reality was a cold hard slap in the face. Stan knew what he had to do.
“I needed to show them that this is worth pursuing, that there’s a reason,” he says.
In 2016, he enrolled in Georgia Military College. A few months later, when he was at home registering online for classes, his youngest son, Zachary, was in the room.
“Hey, why don’t you go on and register too,” Zach’s mom suggested.
Zach had dropped out of college after attending the University of North Georgia for a year and a half. He quickly found full-time work at AutoZone and was recruited from there by 144th Marketing Group, a robust Peachtree City firm that outfits police cars, among other things.
He loves working and has never loved school, but he loves law enforcement, too, and his number one goal in life is to become a game warden.
Born on the opening day of gun season for deer hunting in Georgia, Zach spent most of his birthdays in the woods with his father.
The Peachtree City Police Department is his second home. Zach’s ridden with the department in the 4th of July parade every single year of his life, even when he was in diapers. As a kid, he’d do his homework in a patrol car or watch the City Hall fountain while his dad was in meetings.
He’s been involved in the department’s CERT program since its inception. First, as a fifth grader, he was a volunteer victim.
“Voluntold, actually,” he says.
Then he became a teen CERT instructor, one of the first in the state.
It’s easy to see where the dream comes from.
Even before his father’s holiday lecture, Zach had begun to realize he’d never reach his dream without an education.
A minimum requirement for becoming a game warden is an associates degree. Last year, more than 600 people applied for 22 positions.
“I always thought I could outwork the person next to me, but first you have to get in the door,” Zach says.
Zach found his why, too. “I saw my dad, and I said, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’”
He enrolled at his parent’s kitchen table, and for nearly two years, he and his father encouraged each other. They studied, did homework together, and competitively compared grades at the end of each semester. Like his father, he continued working his fulltime job during the process.
On June 1, both graduated summa cum laude, with Zach posting a GPA of 4.0 and his father close behind at 3.97. Stan was named Distinguished Graduate for GMC’s Fairburn campus.
Zach earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice. If he doesn’t become a game warden, he wants to become part of a police department with strong community policing like Peachtree City. He plans to continue his education too.
“I still don’t love school but I understand the purpose of it now,” Zach said. “And it will help me accomplish my goal of a career in law enforcement.“
Hardly anyone at the Peachtree City Police Department even knows what’s happened.
“The only people that know that I just graduated is the chief [Janet Moon] and my lieutenant,” Stan says. “I didn’t share with anybody else. It wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about the police department.”
Chief Moon was smiling broadly as she showed photos of Stan’s graduation to a reporter last week. “I am very proud of Stan for demonstrating perseverance in his journey to obtain his bachelors degree,” Chief Moon said in a statement Monday. “He has worked toward this for a long time and I am delighted that he has now achieved this goal.”
The whole family was at the commencement ceremony. For Stan, it was the first time he’s walked across the stage for graduation. Before then: “I have never, ever had a graduation in my life.”
“Since then, I’ve had those boys that said ‘Dad, we don’t have to go to college, it’s not important’ come up to me and hug me and tell me they’re proud of me.”
“To have my grandkids there that day, to know they’ll have a picture that they were there with their grandpa at his graduation …”
It’s not just a why. It’s everything.
BEHIND THE SCENES Q&A with Peachtree City Assistant Police Chief Stan Pye
Question: Who helped you in extraordinary ways?
Answer: Jade Ammons, my advisor at GMC. If it hadn’t of been for Jade, I probably would have just said screw it.
To be honest with you, It got hard. Math got hard. I’m not a good math student. And math liked to have killed me. My English lit class liked to have killed me. I do a lot of writing, but I don’t write about 18th-century authors.
Jade, she gave me that tough love. She’s like, “Look, I don’t care. You’re going to do this. I’ve already enrolled you in the class.”
She didn’t give me a chance.
“I’ve already enrolled you. You can be a coward and back out if you want to.”
And I look at her. “Aw, you didn’t use the Coward word?”
So that woman, she drug, pushed, and shoved me all the way to graduation. I mean that. I’m not kidding you.
Q: Who inspired you?
A: There was a time before Zach got in the school, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to walk on graduation day because I didn’t want to be embarrassed, a 58-year-old-man walking across the stage with a bunch of kids. But two things happened.
Number one: Zachary joined Georgia Military College and is now an outstanding student. I think he has tryouts for Georgia DNR coming up very soon. He’s worked hard. You feed off of that.
And then, every once in a while, there would be somebody in class, most of the time it was a single mom. She might be 34 or 36, but she’s a single mom, with a couple of kids, working at Burger King, cleaning houses and I’m like, I might be the oldest one walking across the stage that day, but we all have a crazy story, you know? The 36-year-old single mom that’s had to live off food stamps until she could get this … She’s had a lot of struggles. There’s no shame in walking across that stage.
Q: What if someone like you is reading this story? What would you say to someone considering going back to school?
A: It’s different for everybody, but first, you’ve got to find your why. Everybody’s got a reason why. Maybe it’s because they know to get further in their career. You’ve got to have that. Maybe it’s purely monetary.
But maybe you’ve got a dad or mom out there that has a kid that’s struggling in school, and they need to show them it’s worth it to complete something.
Or maybe you’re just that person that that is on your bucket list. That box isn’t checked for you yet.
For me, it was my pride with my children. If I didn’t see that need to show them that education was important, I wouldn’t have done it. There’s no doubt. I just wouldn’t.