The Passage of High School Life

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Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen is a moving novel that illustrates the passage of a young man high school through his first year as a freshman at Brown University. What makes the storyline most interesting is that the protagonist, Cedric Lavar Jennings, hails from a particularly unique background. His father is a drug addict who spends half his time in prison and the other half of his time on parole working any job he can find. As a result, Gilliam plays little to no role as a parental figure save the few times Cedric interacts with him in prison. Cedric’s mother Barbra, on the contrary, is an incredible human being. Words fail to express exactly how much Barbra has sacrificed for her son Cedric. “She’s been killing herself, her lifeblood channeled thorough scriptural pieties and long-shot hopes for Cedric’s future, leaving new own urges untended and volatile” (42). In this sense, Cedric is virtually brought up entirely by his mother and her values quickly ingrain themselves in Cedric. The first part of the novel chronicles Cedric’s final years at Frank W. Ballou Senior High; a high school in southeast Washington DC frequented by inner-city children whose last concern is academics. The portrait given of the school is pretty bleak, with multiple daily reports of violence. Crab/bucket syndrome: “when one crab tries to climb from the bucket, the others pull it down” (17). Amidst this background at Ballou, Cedric not only manages to maintain his high academic standards but also succeeds in passing under the radar of violence. Cedric holds true to his ambitions of attending an Ivy-League university and is rewarded for his hard work the summer of his junior year by virtue of a letter of acceptance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MITES program. MITES is a program established for minority students who display significant promise. Successful completion of such a program is paramount for Cedric because a healthy percentage of students who participate in the MITES program and who demonstrate potential are subsequently asked back to MIT for four full years of college. The MIT program proves to be quite the experience for Cedric, who quickly finds himself far behind other minority students for the first time in his life. He is suddenly immersed in a world of competitive minorities, a world he has never seen before, and the entire process is rather overwhelming culture shock. “up in Cambridge, meeting black kids who were so much different than him left him confused about what being black means” (100) ANOMIE. Needless to say, in his meeting with Professor Leon Trilling at the end of the program, Cedric is told that his performance during the summer does not qualify him for a spot into the fall class at MIT. Although difficult for Cedric to stomach, the news is nothing unexpected. Cedric spend the entire summer in a constant struggle to compete with others in the program. Undaunted, Cedric continues his crusade at Ballou, keeping his head down and focused at the finish line for his senior year. Cedric, now past the prospect of enrollment in MIT, decides to apply to Brown University as a last resort. Cedric, unable to cope with the idea of going to a mediocre college after his years of sacrifice and hard work, feels that Brown is his final out. Cedric’s prayers are answered and he receives a letter of acceptance to Brown University. The remainder of the novel describes Cedric’s experience at Brown, which in many ways parallels what he had at MIT. Cedric once again finds it difficult to compete in any class besides Calculus and realizes that most of his peers can even afford to party on the weekends and sustain their superior academic performance. Even the African American students at Brown seem much more intelligent than he is, with almost everyone hailing from a fully-functional family with money. The storyline Suskind paints of Brown is vivid in its depiction of freshman year interactions (all awkwardness included)....
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