Free Study Guide for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: Book Summary|
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When Maya’s name is called, she goes listlessly up to the stage. She is no longer proud to receive her diploma. Then a classmate begins to sing the Negro national anthem. Maya’s heart soars as she hears the words. She finds herself silently thanking the songwriter for easing the hearts of her people.
Unlike the previous lighter chapters, this one is more serious. It is graduation day in Stamps, at the grammar schools, middle schools, and high schools. All of the graduates are excited and are made to feel like nobility.
As the graduate ceremonies begin for the black students, the boys are more friendly and outgoing than usual; they are trying to hide their concerns about their futures. In contrast, the girls are quiet and sad about moving on in life. Only a few of the students are going on to college. The majority will take jobs as carpenters, handymen, masons, servants, dishwashers, and maids.
Maya is particularly excited and proud about graduating from eighth grade, for she has finished at the top of her class and excelled at everything she has done in school. As a reward, Momma has splurged and sewed her a new graduation dress with lots of frills. Unfortunately, Maya’s day is spoiled by Mr. Donleavy. He is the white administrator who speaks at Maya’s graduation. He praises the white schools for excelling in math and science; he then praises the black schools for excelling in athletics. The speech upsets many of those in attendance, especially Maya. She suddenly feels miserable about her future, for she knows that she will not be an athlete and has little else to look forward to.
Maya’s disappointment dissipates when she hears the singing of the Negro national anthem. Suddenly she realizes that her people have survived the pains of the past and will endure the future. The words of the anthem make her proud again, and she silently thanks the writer of the anthem and all other inspirational black poets: "Oh, Black known and unknown poets, how often have your auctioned pains sustained us? Who will compute the lonely nights made less lonely by your songs, or by the empty pots made less tragic by your tales?"
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. 09 May 2017