In late September, Cedric decides to dress more like the popular students at Ballou, including a black leather jacket and an "apple cap" hat. In the school cafeteria that morning, new principal Dr. Kenneth Jones reminds Cedric that he's not supposed to wear a hat inside; Cedric defies him, but James Davis gently encourages him to not wear the hat after all. James is an anomaly at Ballou, a football player and academic; he gets by socially because his twin brother Jack runs with gangs. Later in the day, Cedric puts his leather jacket and cap away, and feels relieved for it.
That afternoon, Cedric is in college prep class and continues to consider his options. Reverend Keels is a science teacher who encourages Cedric to improve his SAT scores and offers to help him, but Cedric refuses. Cedric discovers that Brown University is an Ivy League school that may better suit him than others, with a more ethnically diverse student population and a curriculum that would allow him to go at his own speed. He mentions this to Mr. Taylor in mid-November, who vaguely agrees with him. Several nights later, Cedric is inspired to write the personal essay for his Brown application and sends it off for early admission. Several days later, Barbara Jennings is concerned at how her son has been telling everyone in school that he's certain he got into Brown. That evening, after attending Church together, Barbara and Cedric find the acceptance letter for early admission. Nevertheless, this does not make Cedric any less combative a student at Ballou: when he finds out on PTSA night in mid-January that he received a B in physics, he goes to Mr. Momen to protest, who argues this was the nature of the grade curve. Barbara backs Cedric up, forcing Mr. Momen to relent and give him another test. Cedric gets an A on the test and the class, which Barbara notes is the last time she can come to his rescue; Cedric calls the test paper her own "diploma". Barbara is concerned about Cedric losing his identity as he prepares to move ahead in his life.
Cedric had come to the attention of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas due to a series of Wall Street Journal articles about kids at Ballou High School, and in mid-March Cedric goes to visit the judge in his office. Cedric is impressed by Justice Thomas and his hardscrabble background, but also uneasy by advice the Justice gives about how to handle himself in college. Thomas warns against the pitfalls of a young black man attending a primarily white college, as well as the pointlessness of African American studies and the antagonism implied between students of different races. Cedric leaves the meeting both grateful and relieved to get away.
On a Tuesday in mid-May, Ballou hosts its Awards Day. Many of the top students receive financial help from various institutions, but not all receive enough scholarships to go to the school they want. A few days later, Cedric runs into Jack Davis in the bathroom and is warned he won't last two years. Cedric grows more wary about calling undue attention to himself, but it can't be helped. In Advanced Physics at the end of May, James Davis takes Cedric's calculator, a prize from the math department from last year; Cedric demands it back and is punched in the chest by James. Two weeks later, Cedric reviews his salutatorian speech with English teacher Constance Thompson; LaCountiss Spinner has been named the valedictorian. There is concern among Ballou's faculty about the angry nature of Cedric's speech, which attacks the "Dreambusters" who claimed he could not succeed. After the meeting, Cedric sees his senior English teacher, Shirley Briscoe, who guides him towards writing a more gentle speech which passes approval from Ms. Thompson later that afternoon. Cedric then goes to see Clarence Taylor, with whom he's grown more distant in recent months. The two bond again over a story of an encounter Taylor had during the Boston marathon that past April, then a math integration equation Cedric writes on the board, which has Cedric quip about wishing all integration was so easy.
The graduation ceremony for Ballou is held halfway across the city at
Roosevelt High's auditorium. The families of students aree unruly, which
annoys Barbara Jennings as well as Mother Long, the wife of Bishop Long.
Cedric Gilliam is out on parole but does not attend. Cedric Junior forgets
to put on his glasses as he begins to give his speech, and for that reason
develops the courage to give a fiery sermon against the Dreambusters,
stating there is nothing he and his God cannot handle. This defiance stuns
the audience and has them cheering him on. Cedric is exultant after the
ceremony and congratulated by many well-wishers, but Barbara loses control
and hugs her boy, calling her "MY BAAAAABY!"
Cedric's attempt to fit in with the other students at Ballou is treated as a brief interlude, and takes on comic overtones due to how poorly he carries it off. Cedric's faith that he has been accepted into Brown is remarkable in that it shows a confidence and pride which is generally beyond him in the rest of his life. This point is brought home by how he is persecuted by other students in the last days of his senior year. Cedric claims through much of the book that he needs to fight back against something in order to move forward, but his meeting with Justice Clarence Thomas alarms him. While Thomas' personal history mirrors Cedric in significant ways, the Justice's attitude towards race and education are much more antagonistic than Cedric wishes for himself.
However, the anger Cedric has felt through much of his high school years is
not yet stifled, as he gets to attack his opposition during his graduation
speech, labeling them "Dreambusters" and defying their imagined
hold over him. His graduation speech is also a vivid example of how academics
and religious beliefs collide in his world, as what he says and how he
delivers it is likened to a passionate sermon. This hearkens back to when
he first surprised his church by singing in front of everyone as a child:
in both cases, they are an affirmation of his faith in God as a guide
to a better life. The power of such a perspective - and of such an intimate
rhetorical approach - helps get him through his freshman year at Brown,
though he has to learn to distance himself to continue along his chosen
Cite this page:
Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on A Hope in the Unseen".
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