Mom drops Ishmael off on the night of the final school event. Mom, Dad, and Prue can’t come, since Mom has a charity dinner and Prue is sick. So Ishmael enters the gym alone. He knows he needs to check in with Miss Tarango, but first, he needs to find Barry. Finally, Ishmael finds Barry and heads his direction. Barry taunts Ishmael when he sees him. Ishmael says that Barry was wrong the other day when he said that Ishmael doesn’t have a prayer. He does have a prayer. Ishmael puts a piece of paper in Barry’s hand and hurries toward Miss Tarango.
It's fitting that Ishmael is here without his family to support him. However he’s going to get back at Barry, the fact that he’s trying at all shows that he’s coming of age—which is essentially a process of moving away from his parents. This passage also highlights Ishmael’s independence when he seeks out Barry without any teachers or other administrators around. Ishmael is acting all on his own.
The next little while goes by in a blur. Rather than listening to the speeches and ceremonies, Ishmael stares at his reading—which isn’t the prayer that Mr. Barker helped him write. It’s a prayer Ishmael wrote. It reads: “Let us pray that Barry Bagsley can learn to let other people be themselves instead of bullying them and putting them down all the time.” Finally, Miss Tarango ushers the debating team onto the stage.
Finally, Ishmael reveals what he’s going to do: read this prayer to the school instead of whatever Mr. Barker wrote with him. This will expose Barry as the cruel bully he is. And notably, Ishmael will also be using his words to get back at Barry, another indicator that language is extremely powerful.
Ishmael looks around the gym and finds Barry in the middle of the room. Barry is obviously furious, but Ishmael is surprised that he himself doesn’t care. Ishmael knows he’s going to get revenge and there’s nothing Barry can do to stop him. Ishmael meets Barry’s eyes as Ignatius, then Razza, and then Bill read their readings. Barry mouths for Ishmael not to do it, but then he suddenly seems to panic.
Seeing Barry so upset is satisfying proof for Ishmael that his words are powerful. Barry, he knows, isn’t going to make a scene to get Ishmael to not read his prayer—so Ishmael can do whatever he wants. Suddenly, Ishmael finds himself in Barry’s position: no one can stop him.
As Ishmael takes the microphone, Barry suddenly doesn’t look threatening anymore. Ishmael sees a woman beside Barry put a hand on Barry’s knee. She seems to ask Barry if he’s okay. This is weird; it’s hard to imagine Barry with a mother, let alone someone who looks so normal and nice. And Barry’s dad doesn’t look drunk and absent. He’s wearing a suit and tie and he’s smiling. Ishmael says, “Let us pray.” It sounds like his voice is coming from somewhere else. He looks down at Barry, who’s shaking his head and mouthing “no,” “please,” and “don’t.” Barry looks defeated.
For Ishmael, it’s a shock to realize that Barry has parents—parents who seem to be just as nice and involved in their son’s life as Mom and Dad are in Ishmael’s. Put another way, Ishmael is suddenly confronted with the fact that perhaps Barry isn’t so different than he is. But as Ishmael takes the microphone, Barry starts to look even more human—and helpless.
Ishmael says, “Let us pray that Barry,” but he stops. Barry slumps in his seat, looking beaten. Ishmael recognizes that look—he’s worn it, as has little Marty and Bill Kingsley. The gym is silent, waiting for Ishmael to speak. Ishmael feels like he’s holding his harpoon, ready to strike, as he starts his prayer several times. But finally, he says that they should pray that the barriers that separate people can be overcome so they can all get along.
Suddenly, Ishmael realizes what’s wrong with this picture. He may be using his words rather than physical violence to get back at Barry. But Ishmael also knows full well that words can hurt—indeed, Barry hurts Ishmael daily by butchering his name. Essentially, by choosing to read a different prayer instead of threatening Barry, Ishmael chooses to not become a bully himself.