Bernadine and Bill Dohrn are on the Brown campus, talking with a friend about what it must be like to be 18 years old again. In their youth, they were part of the Weather Underground activist group, and spent time on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, which forced them to spend seven years in hiding. They are now middle-aged professionals, and Bernadine thinks about how it is the new generation—Zayd’s generation—that is at the forefront. But she is disappointed in his lack of interest in larger social causes, and the way he sees women as possible sexual conquests. But she promises herself that she will not get into a fight with her son this weekend—it is Parents’ Weekend, after all.
The arrival of Zayd’s parents gives his character some context, especially in terms of Zayd’s interest in being friends with Cedric. There is a certain tension between Zayd and Bernadine that reflects a larger generational tension—while there were large, national issues that were worthy of protest in the 1960s, young people in the 1990s tend to look inward, focusing on more selfish issues like personal identity, fitting in, and exploring sexual boundaries.
Barbara has made the trip up to Providence as well, and has been waiting for this weekend for months. After Cedric left home, she seemed to lose her sense of focus, and began missing work and church, and ignoring some of the bills she should have been paying. She couldn’t talk to Cedric on the phone anymore because it had been turned off for nonpayment, but the last time they spoke, Cedric had told her he didn’t want her to come to visit. But she came anyway, taking the train up with her daughter Neddy. They wait outside of Cedric’s dorm until someone lets them in, and wander down the hallway until they find Cedric, still asleep in his room at noon.
In some ways, Cedric’s triumph must inevitably lead to Barbara’s loss of self, as she spent 18 years defining herself in relation to her son. While for many middle class families, a child moving on to college is a regular part of the life cycle, this is not necessarily the norm in poorer families. Unlike the other parents on campus this weekend, Barbara does not have a job to wrap herself up in, or hobbies she can finally enjoy now that her son is gone; she is simply lonely and lost.
Barbara scolds Cedric for not having his hair cut for her arrival, but he tells her that he needs to get a new set of electric clippers, which gives his mother a mission for the day. She also tells him that Bishop Long would like Cedric to call him, which is something she has arranged out of fear—Cedric does not have a church in Providence, and she worries that he will struggle with temptations at college. He is reluctant, but she convinces him. And as she listens to Cedric and Neddy talk, she realizes that for as anxious as she may be about meeting other, more affluent parents this weekend, Cedric is a Brown student just as much as their children are, and she should be proud to be there. She tells Cedric to get ready to go out.
Barbara and her daughter Neddy bring a much-needed reminder of home to Cedric. This is the first time that Barbara will see her son as a part of the Brown community, and she is inspired by his ability to enter into another world. Her reminder about Scripture Cathedral is not as welcome to Cedric—he does not have a place for church in his life at this point in time. However, Barbara’s concerns about temptation are unfounded, as Cedric has fully internalized many of the strict religious rules he learned at home and church.
Cedric, Barbara, and Neddy spend the day outside of the Brown campus, at a local mall where they browse familiar discount shops like Payless and the Dollar Store, and then return for a fancy dinner at a restaurant near campus. They have spent virtually no time with other Brown parents, who seem foreign and confusing to them. Before leaving, they meet Zayd’s parents, who greet them enthusiastically and gush over what a great kid Cedric is. Barbara greets them all and then purposely moves past them to get to Cedric’s room. Bernadine is disappointed that she doesn’t get to spend any more time with them, but Barbara is ready to get home after a long and tiring weekend.
For the Jennings family, Parents’ Weekend at Brown is about reconnecting and re-forming the insular relationship that served them so well in Washington, D.C. She has little interest in meeting other parents, including Zayd’s mother—and while Bernadine’s history of civil rights protests is impressive, Barbara only sees a middle-class white woman, and cannot imagine what they could possibly have in common or what they might want to talk about.