One day, Neni receives a letter from Phi Theta Kappa, inviting her to become a member. She’s reluctant to tell Jende because it’ll cost her one hundred dollars to join, but he’s happy for her and sees it as an opportunity to get one of the scholarships that the society offers its members. Neni submits her membership application online and, days later, gets an envelope welcoming her to the society. She learns that, to get a scholarship, she’ll need to be nominated by a dean. She emails Jerry for the name and office number of the nominator, Dean Flipkins.
Neni’s entrance to the society is not only an opportunity to get a scholarship, which places her one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a pharmacist, it’s also an acknowledgement of her hard work and her talent as a scholar. She’s nervous about asking Jende for money, despite the ten thousand dollars that she recently brought in, due to her newfound tendency to fear his reactions.
On the walk from the subway to her school, Neni imagines that the dean will be “a kindly old white man.” When she arrives to the dean’s office, she sees a young white guy wearing “geek-chic black-framed glasses.” Dean Flipkins tells her that he doesn’t nominate by request and that, though Neni has excellent grades, she hasn’t been very involved in the college or the community. She feels ashamed and says that she just doesn’t have the time, due to having two children, but he’s disinterested in Neni’s excuse. Dean Flipkins also tells her that every scholarship and grant that the college offers is for citizens or permanent residents, not international students.
Neni’s image of the dean is a common one for those in authority. It doesn’t occur to either her or Jende that the dean could be a woman, a person of color, or a young person, which suggests how deeply their perceptions have been shaped by stereotypes cultivated through media. The dean’s lack of sympathy for Neni’s roles as a working mother and student could result from his being a young man, but he also seems to have less faith in her competence on account of her race and ethnicity.
Looking at his computer, Dean Flipkins notices that Neni plans to apply to pharmacy school after graduation and asks her why. Neni says that it’s a path to a good job, and that her husband’s cousin advised her to do it. The dean smiles and asks if it’s the right career path for her, given how expensive pharmacy school is. Also, as an international student, it’ll be hard for her to get loans to pay for a degree. He assures her that part of his role as a dean entails making sure that his students’ goals are attainable. He asks if she knows what that means. Neni silently glares at him. Neni rises to leave, declaring that will become a pharmacist.
Dean Flipkins thinks that he’s being helpful, though he’s actually being discouraging. He doesn’t know anything about Neni’s history beyond what she’s volunteered to tell him. When he condescends to her by asking if she knows what it means for something to be “achievable,” it’s a clear indication that he thinks that she lacks either the knowledge or intelligence to follow his speech, which is ironic given that she’s proven to be quite adept academically.
When Jende comes home from work that night, Neni tells him nothing about her conversation with Dean Flipkins, except that she probably won’t get any scholarships. He then wonders about the point of going to the honor society’s ceremony. She asks Winston to go with her instead and he delightedly agrees. He leaves work early to join her, Fatou, and the kids in front of the auditorium. Fatou stays with Timba in the hall while Winston and Liomi clap and cheer as Neni is inducted into Phi Theta Kappa.
Jende, rather insensitively, disregards the importance of the ceremony because he’s too concerned with results at this point in his life to enjoy the fruits of Neni’s labor. This is particularly true now that his own labor yields so little. He doesn’t realize, or perhaps doesn’t care, that Neni has proven to herself that she’s capable of becoming more than she expected.