Cedric has returned home for winter break, and is looking forward to Alumni Day at Ballou. It has provided him with the motivation that he needed on his most difficult days at Brown, reminding him that he would have to come back and face the students of his high school, and would be letting them down if he failed. He thinks about what he wants to say to them, and feels that he should be honest about the difficulties of that first semester and about being away from home. When he returned to Scripture Cathedral, he was boastful at first, telling everyone he had a 4.0 grade point average, despite the fact that in reality, he had taken all of his classes pass/fail and had no idea what his GPA would be.
Cedric’s first trip home after beginning college at Brown is another pivotal moment in this story and in Cedric’s development of a sense of self. While he is proud of achieving his goal and attending the college of his dreams, he still feels the need to prove something to everyone in his neighborhood, which leads him to boast and to stretch the truth about his academic progress. Clearly, Cedric has not yet gained the self-confidence to stop worrying about how others see him.
When Cedric arrives at Ballou for Alumni Day, he is more nervous than he expected to be, and quickly repeats the 4.0 lie, and tells the teachers that he will be coming back as the school’s principal someday, after he has made his fortune as a software designer. When he gets up to speak, he attempts to talk about practical matters to the sparse group of about ten seniors in attendance. He tells them to take advantage of the rest of their time at Ballou because there are fewer people to hold their hands in college, and they will need to build their own support networks. When it is over, Cedric goes to find Mr. Taylor, his beloved chemistry teacher, but when he sees the blood stain from a recent knife fight in the hallway, he decides that he needs to leave and never come back.
While Cedric tips his hat to the support systems at Ballou that have helped him achieve his college dreams, he has not outgrown his desire to prove himself, which makes his interactions with his former teachers somewhat uncomfortable, as if he considers himself better than they are, now that he has been at Brown for a while. It is interesting that Cedric chooses not to visit Mr. Taylor, to whom he owes the majority of his success. This is possibly because Cedric is not yet capable of having an honest and authentic conversation with the teacher yet.
Cedric is eating out with LaTisha after taking her to the Sunday service at Scripture Cathedral, where she believes she was taken over by the Holy Spirit. She got on stage with Bishop Long, and something came over her, though Cedric is skeptical about whether or not the Holy Spirit actually entered her body. Either way, LaTisha feels that something has changed for her, and she hopes that she has found the key to Cedric’s passion and drive. She has missed him during his first semester away at college, and realizes that their friendship was something more than that, and that she may have developed romantic feelings for him after all of these years. She is hurt that he has not called her earlier, as soon as he got home, and his explanation is vague—he has been at home with nothing to do.
The story pivots slightly to present LaTisha’s perspective, which gives readers an idea of what it is like to be left behind once Cedric is off at Brown. She is eager to reconnect with him, while he has little interest in the world he has escaped from. She uses religion as their common ground, hoping that she can get Cedric to respond to her romantically, or if not, maybe she can use religion as a way to absorb some of Cedric’s ambition. What she does not understand is that while Cedric is physically present with her, mentally and emotionally he has left the neighborhood behind for good.
They return to church that evening for a second service, and LaTisha stews in her sense of disappointment over her time with Cedric. He had mentioned that he was feeling less enthusiastic about his connection to the church, and she wonders if she could find her faith and use that to help him. When the service is over, they begin to talk about what Bishop Long said about looking presentable when coming to church, and before long they are screaming at each other. She suddenly sees herself as Cedric must see her: overweight, clingy, and stuck in Washington, D.C., forever. She is sure that he used to see beyond all of that, into her soul, and know that she is a good person. However, he has changed, and he no longer belongs to this part of the world—to her world.
The argument between Cedric and LaTisha shows how much they both have to learn about themselves, and how much more growing they need to do. Cedric is no longer able to connect to his high school friends because he has spent so much mental and emotional energy trying to fit in at Brown, and has come to define himself by his college experience. LaTisha, on the other hand, hopes that her sense of “being a good person” is enough to overcome the massive differences between the two friends at this point in their lives.
Back at Brown, Cedric is surprised by how comfortable he feels, and how he has come to see this place as home. He also resolves to never take an entire semester’s worth of classes pass/fail, because he should not be so fearful anymore. When he begins to show more initiative in his calculus class, answering three questions in a row and worrying about showing off, Cedric begins to think about conversations he has had with Bishop Long about the sin of pride. He wonders where the line is between using one’s gifts to glorify God and being prideful. He is not sure, but he knows that very few Brown students got there by simply putting their faith in God.
Cedric is finally beginning to confront his questions about the relationship between his faith and his individual ambition. While he has had his doubts about his connection to the church in the past, Cedric is finally beginning to intellectualize these questions and separate them from his emotional connection to Scripture Cathedral. This is the goal of college, of course: to teach students to question ideas they had previously taken for granted.
In another math class he is considering taking, Cedric sees one of the smarter students in the class, and realizes that he was the student at Ballou who had gotten into Brown. He had boundless confidence at Ballou, which he immediately lost upon coming to Brown. Cedric also realizes something even more profound about why he felt so terrible about taking easy classes pass/fail last semester. While pride has always been considered a sin in the church, in his neighborhood, and at Ballou, it is exactly that—self-centered, boastful pride—that got him to Brown, and he has no reason to shelve that quality now. He decides to take five classes, including the more challenging math class.
At Ballou, Cedric used his sense of anger and frustration to help him succeed, but at Brown, those feelings were overtaken by a fear of failure, which caused him to lower his standards and take an easy set of classes. He needed to develop that confidence by proving to himself that he could survive in that crucial first semester, in order to regain his pride. While taking easy classes on a pass/fail basis was not necessarily a bad idea, Cedric is ready to regain his old passion for learning and achievement.
Cedric and Zayd are hanging out at The Gate, a popular eatery on campus, and Cedric notices his friend’s boots, which are very similar to a style that Cedric wears. He notes that Zayd originally did not like the style, and suggests that he is mimicking Cedric’s style, which grates on him. Zayd explains that their styles will naturally rub off on one another, but Cedric is bothered by the idea that Zayd is copying his inner-city look in a way that is inauthentic. Zayd brings up a book he read about children in the housing projects of Chicago, where he is from, but Cedric responds by asking if Zayd’s “professor dad” had him read the book. Eventually, their tension turns to laughter, and all is well between them.
This conversation with Zayd demonstrates some of Cedric’s developing concept of his racial identity in relation to his Brown classmates. While he wants his friends to respect his background, he also wants to establish clear boundaries that Zayd seems to cross with his intense interest in Cedric’s fashion choices. While Zayd is his closest friend in college up to this point, Cedric still sees him as a white middle-class student, and the son of a professor, and has a hard time looking beyond those differences, despite Zayd’s protests.
Cedric still holds on to his feelings of frustration, though, and when Zayd’s friend joins them, Cedric remarks that he should not be seen around two white guys, because people will think he is selling out. He apologizes for his rudeness, but then adds that he does not expect that the white people around him will be supportive of him. Zayd tells him that he supports him, just as Cedric supports Zayd, and Cedric puts that latter statement in doubt. Finally, Zayd tells Cedric that he, as a white man, wants to be friends with Cedric, a black man, and that should be enough. Cedric tells him that he has a lot of work to do, and leaves.
Cedric considers Zayd a friend, but not necessarily an ally at this point, which is upsetting to Zayd, who does not know how to prove to his friend that he supports him completely. In addition to his struggles with racial identity, Cedric has little experience with close friendships, as he has spent much of his time in high school studying and hiding out from his fellow students.