Summary of Chapter Five: To Him Who Endureth
When Cedric returns to Ballou, he briefly has a relapse and toys with becoming a cool black guy. He wears his leather jacket and hat to school while his mother is not looking. She bought him the leather jacket but doesn’t want him to wear it to school because “kids are sometimes killed over leather jackets” (p. 101). He acts tough in the cafeteria, talking back to the principal who is confused at his behavior. Fortunately, a fight breaks out and distracts the principal, and Cedric returns to his senses in time.
In Cedric’s class called “College Prep” that helps seniors prepare for final SAT exams and applications to colleges, he reads the admission requirements for Yale, Harvard, Princeton and MIT. He thinks he may have to resign himself to a “middle-rung” college after all. Then he remembers that a science teacher told him about Brown University. It is an Ivy League school with demanding requirements, but less so than Harvard. The average SAT score is 1290, and his is only 960, but he likes the look of the place, and its multicultural atmosphere, with one-third of the students non-white. They seem to respect diversity. In his essay for Brown, he mentions his religion, his mother’s support, and pleads that success is not only in test scores but in the quality of the person: “being a man comes from the heart and mind, and a real man can accept responsibility and take care of himself . . . I can honestly say that I know who I am and where I am going” (p. 107). He prays over the application: “I worked so hard. I deserve it. . . . This is the place I want to be” (p. 109).
After they return from church one evening the acceptance letter from Brown is waiting. It is the miracle he asked for, and he is relieved: “Gaawwd, am I glad that’s over with” (p. 111). Barbara begins to think what it will be like without Cedric and the goal they have worked for all these years. At the PTSA meeting at Ballou everyone knows Cedric has gotten into Brown and congratulates Barbara. Semester grades are passed out, and Cedric is upset over a “B” in physics. Barbara goes with her son to confront the teacher. Cedric tells him the “B” on the curve doesn’t mean anything because the other kids are cheating. He accuses the teacher of leaving the room so the kids can cheat. The teacher doesn’t want to give in until Barbara speaks up forcefully: “My son doesn’t lie” (p.114). The teacher gives Cedric another test on which he wins an “A.”
Cedric is invited to meet Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African American Supreme Court Justice. They meet in Thomas’s office at the Supreme Court Building. Thomas is still suffering from the publicity of the confirmation hearings and the accusations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill. Thomas had read about Cedric in the newspaper and generously shares his memories of his climb to the top and all the obstacles he had to overcome.
Thomas warns him about losing his identity at Brown around the smart white kids. He should always be himself and avoid being sucked into any group. He should avoid the courses on African American studies and take solid academic courses. He must outwork the others since they have advantages. He will not have a second chance if he fails, and he will not be able to go back to his old world and might not fit in the new one either.
Cedric thinks to himself that he just wants to be part of something bigger, “With everyone being a top achiever, just like him” (p. 122).
In the May assemblies at Ballou, Cedric gets top honors with many scholarships and acceptance to Brown, as well as recruiting bids from Duke, George Washington University, Brigham Young, and Florida A & M. LaCountiss Spinner also has scholarships. LaTisha and Phillip Atkins get smaller awards from the “I Have a Dream” foundation. Only sixty-four students have been accepted into college, and many of them won’t go for lack of funds. Cedric keeps a low profile for the rest of the month, not wanting to stir up resentment.
At graduation, La Countiss Spinner is the valedictorian, and Cedric is the salutatorian. Cedric’s speech is full of anger, and he is told he must revise it. He works with the English teacher to find something positive to say. She shows him a poem by Langston Hughes called “Dreams,” and that gives him something to work with. Cedric also makes up with Mr. Taylor, whom he felt pushed him too hard, even after he got into Brown. They have not been close for six months. Cedric finally lets go when he realizes all the students had dreams, not just him, so he makes his graduation speech inspirational.
Cedric speaks first and begins his speech by thanking God and his mother. When he realizes no one is paying attention, he begins to ad lib and puts back in some of the angry parts of his speech. He addresses the people who try to kill dreams as “Dreambusters” (p. 136). The audience becomes quiet as Cedric finally tells them what he feels: “THERE IS NOTHING ME AND MY GOD CAN’T HANDLE” (p. 137). He finishes with the quote, “For the race is not given to the swift nor to the strong, but to him who endureth until the end” (p. 137). After the ceremony, students and teachers warmly congratulate Cedric, and his mother is so proud, she loses control and shouts, “MY BAAAAABY!” (p.139)
Commentary on Chapter Five: To Him Who Endureth
Cedric’s graduation speech allows him to express himself and what the journey of the last four years have meant to him. He vents his anger but also his pride. He feels “like some of his demons have finally vanished” (p. 138). The other students finally admire him.
Cedric’s religious faith is justified. He prayed and got an answer. He acts as though the acceptance letter is “straight from God” (p. 113). Cedric’s dream comes true, but he has warnings, that though he feels the struggle is over, it might just be starting. He will be in a different setting at Brown, and what will happen to his identity then? The reader has the memory of MIT to refer to, how he felt like he was drowning, when he was with just other minority students. At Brown, he will face the whole world, whites and all.
LaTisha is afraid Cedric will lose his identity at Brown. Barbara tells him he won’t “as long as you’re a whole person” (p. 115). It seems a concern for Justice Thomas as well. His advice to Cedric isn’t entirely welcome, but he hits on some key themes for Cedric’s life at Brown, and Cedric ultimately heeds what he says. Thomas tells him not to go for the easy courses, and he must also avoid being put into a group: “Try to say to yourself, I’m not a black person, I’m just a person” (p. 121). This bit of advice will take every ounce of Cedric’s strength to work through in his freshman year.
Thomas also warns him about his differences. He will have to work harder than other people, and he won’t have any safety nets. One strike, and he’s out. Cedric is familiar with this kind of panic, the fear of always being behind. Thomas tells him: “You just have to keep studying, like your life depends on it” (p. 122).
Cedric is one of the lucky ones, winning not only admissions to colleges, but scholarships as well. James Davis, for instance, the athlete hoping for a football scholarship, gets into Florida A & M, but has no scholarship: “Money is crucial. Acceptance to college is meaningless for many kids at Ballou without financial aid” (p. 124).
The theme of identity comes up in this chapter as a foretaste of what will preoccupy Cedric at Brown. The chapter opens with Cedric in his leather jacket trying to act like a tough black guy. James Davis tells Cedric he doesn’t need to put on that act: “You’re fine, just the way you are” (p. 103). This rare encouragement helps him at a crucial moment. We see Cedric shifting back and forth from a ghetto pose to an academic pose. As Thomas warns, he will be caught in between worlds, neither fitting into one or the other.
Barbara is proud of her son, realizing that she too has always felt she belonged in a better world. Meanwhile, she feels her contract with her son is coming to an end. She worries that he will leave her behind in his new life.