Becoming Me, Chapters 5–8

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Last Updated on July 22, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1444

Chapter 5

Michelle began ninth grade, and for the first time, she didn’t have Craig to pave the way for her. Now, she had to survive on her own, and she felt insecure as she struggled to find her place in the new social community.

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For the first time, Michelle met people from various neighborhoods and social statuses. She notes that the student body was about eighty percent nonwhite and that most of her new friends were Black and, to her amazement, from privileged backgrounds. Michelle began to gain confidence as she earned good grades.

Craig attended Princeton University and, in his sophomore year, became a starter on the basketball team. Fraser sometimes took time off from work and drove twelve hours to see Craig play.

Although Marian and Fraser never discussed financial difficulties, Michelle was always aware of her parents’ sacrifices for their children. Therefore, she didn’t mention an opportunity to go on a school trip to France, assuming it was too expensive. Upon discovering the opportunity, Fraser and Marian made it clear that she must not worry about money; several months later, Michelle boarded the flight to Paris with her classmates.

One of Michelle’s best friends was Santita, the daughter of Jesse Jackson, a powerful preacher and political leader who advocated for African American rights. Michelle describes the Jackson house as an exciting place. There was “a different energy” when Reverend Jackson was home; routine fell to the side, and important plans were discussed.

The Jackson children participated in marches and boycotts and understood the importance of political activism. Michelle came to expect the unexpected when she was with them, even though she did not like surprises—Michelle preferred order and advanced planning, neither of which she would experience with Santita. For instance, the girls were swept into the Bud Billiken Day Parade, an important event promoting African American pride. Years later, Michelle would understand the importance of this parade, but at the time, she was uncomfortable about participating in something that she had not intended to do.

Michelle set her sights on Princeton University. She had excellent grades, was part of the National Honor Society, was Senior Class Treasurer, and was in the top ten percent of her graduating class. Despite her accomplishments, her college admissions counselor discouraged her from applying to Princeton. Determined to prove her wrong, Michelle applied to Princeton and several other colleges. When she was accepted to Princeton, Michelle did not visit the counselor to inform her she had been wrong; Michelle had managed to prove to herself that she was capable, which was what was truly important. 

Chapter 6

Michelle needed to begin a new life at Princeton. She broke up with David, the boy she had been dating for a year; although she loved him, her heart told her he was not the right man for her. Leaving behind her summer factory job and everything she loved in Chicago, Michelle fully devoted herself to excelling at Princeton.

Michelle noticed that the majority of students were White men and that the school, like others, was fulfilling various types of quotas. The students at Princeton were minorities, were athletes, came from lower socioeconomic areas, or had lower grade point averages.  

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Michelle’s advantage was, once again, being Craig’s little sister. He had established an impressive life for himself as a member of the varsity basketball team, and he introduced Michelle to numerous people, including Suzanne, who became one of her best friends.

Michelle worked as an assistant to Czerny Brasuell, the director of the Third World Center, an offshoot of Princeton dedicated to supporting minority students. She describes Czerny as a beautiful, young, hip, “outspoken defender” and “uber-mentor.” Michelle quickly learned to be prepared for anything as her assistant—babysitting Jonathan, Czerny’s son; answering questions about students’ concerns; or even taking a car trip to New York and having to drive around Manhattan while Czerny conducted business. Michelle soon overcame her inhibitions and took charge of situations.

In sophomore year, Michelle and Suzanne moved in together; Michelle describes Suzanne as “the Laverne to [her] Shirley, the Ernie to [her] Bert.” While Michelle was neat and organized, Suzanne was messy and carefree. Michelle thought everything through, while Suzanne made decisions based on how much fun she would have. Michelle reflects that later in her life, when she met a man who never folded his clothes and kept his belongings in piles, she was able to coexist with him and is still coexisting with him today because of her experiences with Suzanne. 

Michelle became less intimidated and recognized her own intelligence. She was no longer uncomfortable to be one of the few students of color on campus. Students of color still faced discrimination, however: one girl was called to the dean because her White roommate had complained that she had “big black guys” over to celebrate her birthday. Situations like this compelled Michelle to work even harder to overcome stereotypes.

Czerny suggested that Michelle begin a day care center. Michelle had been caring for Jonathan after school, and upon Czerny’s suggestion, she was able to find several other children to care for. She loved playing with the children and helping them with their homework; it was exhausting but satisfying work.

Michelle called home every week to catch up with her parents. Her father never discussed his health and always spoke as if everything was alright. However, when Marian and Fraser visited for a basketball game, Michelle was shocked to see him in a wheelchair. He did not want to visit a specialist or attend physical therapy, as Michelle had suggested, preferring to cope with his ailment himself.

Chapter 7

Michelle dated Kevin, a fun and charming football player and premed student. Upon graduating, he decided to become a team mascot instead of immediately attending medical school—a choice that goal-oriented Michelle could not understand. She realizes today that she unfairly judged Kevin for his decision.

The summer before junior year was when Michelle first experienced the deaths of loved ones: her great-aunt Robbie and grandfather Southside. The combination of their passing and the nostalgia she felt as her family gathered together after Southside’s funeral felt “jarring” compared to her college life.

Still driven to succeed, Michelle became exhausted by classes, studying, and preparing for the Law School Admission Test. She admits now that she craved approval, so telling people that she would attend Harvard Law School made her feel important.

Michelle jumps forward in her narrative to when she became a junior associate in a law firm in Chicago. She was thrilled to be back where she grew up and working on the forty-seventh floor of a building she had passed by many times on her way to school. One day, a senior partner asked Michelle to mentor a new summer associate. She recalls thinking his name was strange. 

Chapter 8

On his first day as a summer associate, Barack Obama was late. Although Michelle wore suits every day, drove a Saab, and lived in her own apartment (albeit above her parents’ apartment), Michelle had not allowed success to change her personality. And because of her meticulous nature, she was annoyed that Barack was late.

Barack had a reputation already; after only one year of law school, he had already impressed people. One of his Harvard professors said he was “the most gifted law student she’d ever encountered.” The secretaries said he was cute.

When Barack arrived, apologizing for his lateness, Michelle noticed his smile and that he did not seem aware of his brilliant reputation. She learned that he’d graduated from Columbia and had worked as a community organizer rebuilding neighborhoods and creating jobs. She describes him as a “sixteenth-century mountain hermit” who enjoyed reading, philosophy, and writing poetry. The one thing she disliked was that he smoked.

As time went by, they became friends and fell into a routine, spending a lot of time working together. Michelle was impressed by Barack’s honest self-confidence and his unconventional attitude. Barack “never strayed far from a larger sense of obligation”; he knew that real progress could only happen if people worked together with the government to change policy. 

Their relationship began to change, and Barack began attempting to convince Michelle that they should date. Despite her confusion and worries about “what was proper, about who would find out and whether that mattered,” and about the effect that dating Barack would have on her job, she found herself drawn to him. One night, he asked if he could kiss her. Michelle remembers, “I leaned in and everything felt clear.”

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Preface and Becoming Me, Chapters 1–4

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Becoming Us, Chapters 9–11