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Warriors Don’t Cry: Notes, Summaries, and Other Information

Key Facts

full title · Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

author · Melba Patillo Beals

type of work · Memoir

genre · Nonfiction, memoir, biography

language · English

time and place written · 1990s, The United States

date of first publication · 1994

publisher · Pocket Books

narrator · Melba Patillo Beals

point of view · The book is the story of Melba’s teenage life, and the adult writer, Melba, is both the narrator and the protagonist. Melba tells the story from the first person point of view.

tone · Restrained anger

tense · Past

setting (time) · Early 1950s

setting (place) · Little Rock, Arkansas

protagonist · Melba Patillo

major conflicts · The attempt made by Melba and eight other African-American students to integrate into Little Rock High School

rising action · The Supreme Court rules in Brown v. the Board of Education that separate schools are not equal; Melba volunteers to go to the all-white Central High School; Melba and eight other African-American students enter Central High.

climax · Ernie becomes the first black student to graduate from Central High School.

falling action · Unable to return for a second year at Central High School, Melba moves to California and lives with a white family; she becomes a journalist and reports on injustices around the world.

themes · The shifting of power through resistance, the prominence of race relations

motifs · Self-reliance, the loss of innocence

symbols · Central High School, Melba’s Easter dress, journalism

foreshadowing · After Melba’s grandmother rescues her from the all-white bathroom and sneaks her past the police, they drive away from Central High School. Melba wonders what it is like to go to school there. This foreshadows her eventual enrollment at Central and the subsequent struggles that she will endure.

Context

Melba Patillo Beals was born on December 7, 1941, in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the same day that Japanese troops bombed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor (now called Pearl Harbor Day). The first-born child of Lois and Will Patillo, Beals was born with a scalp infection, which caused significant complications. Her health was further compromised by the fact that she was African American; white nurses and doctors did very little to help her. Luckily, Beals’s mother spoke to a janitor who had overheard a doctor recommending Epsom salts to clean the infection. Beals’s mother got the Epsom salts, and Beals survived.

At the time that Beals was born, black and white people in many parts of America (especially the southern states) lived in a legally segregated society. After the Civil War, the “Jim Crow” Laws were put into place to thwart the advancement of black people, and during the time that Beals was a child, these laws severely restricted the rights of black people. Beals’s mother was a teacher, and her father worked for the railroad. Though they were better off than many other blacks in Arkansas, they were still subject to the same injustices as the rest of their community. As Beals describes in this book, most black people lived in constant fear of making white people angry and facing brutal, violent retaliation for even the smallest offense. For example, Beals witnessed her father stand powerless as the milkman sexually harassed her mother. Yet Beals’s mother, Lois, fought through the prejudices at the University of Arkansas and managed to obtain a master’s degree in education. Though Lois encouraged her husband, Will, to finish his degree as well, he felt unable to do so. By the time Beals was eleven, Will had moved out of the house.

Aside from her parents, the strongest influence in Beals’s life was her grandma, India. India was deeply religious, and she taught Beals to look to the Bible for guidance. She also taught Beals to rely on God for strength, a lesson that would help her later when she became one of the first black students to enter Little Rock’s all-white high school in the fall of 1957.

In 1954, when Beals was twelve, the Supreme Court made a momentous decision in the lawsuit Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first black justice on the Supreme Court, argued on behalf of a young African-American girl named Linda Brown, who was prevented from attending a nearby all-white elementary school. Marshall was also the chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he argued that segregation, the idea validated by the “separate but equal” finding in Plessy vs. Ferguson, was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment, passed after the abolition of slavery, stated that all citizens of the United States were guaranteed the same rights, including the same rights to public education and protection under the law.

The Supreme Court found that segregation was indeed unconstitutional, and civil rights activists began to work toward integration and equal rights for white and black people. Their largest battle was the effort to integrate the schools in southern communities. Three years later, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine black students were sent to the all-white Central High School to force integration. This group was known as the Little Rock Nine, and Beals was one of them.

Beals spent one terrible year at Central High School, facing death threats, violence, and hatred. The governor of Arkansas at the time, Orval Faubus, sent troops to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering the school. President Eisenhower decreed that Faubus was defying federal law and sent federal troops down to force the integration. Their battle continued throughout the school year. The next year, Faubus shut down the Little Rock schools so that he would not have to allow desegregation, and Beals was eventually sent to live with a family of white Quakers in California. Two more years passed before black students were allowed back in Central High School. After graduating from high school, Beals relocated to California, where she went to college and married a white man named John. Beals dreamed of becoming a journalist, and John wanted a housewife, so they eventually divorced. They had one child, Kelli. Beals got a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University; she later became a reporter for NBC, and then a communications consultant and an author.

Plot Overview

Warriors Don’t Cry begins when Melba and eight other black men and women in their forties return to their home state of Arkansas to meet the then-governor, Bill Clinton. Melba, the narrator and author, explains that the group, called the Little Rock Nine, is visiting Central High School in Little Rock. As teenagers in 1957, the nine of them were the first African-American students to be integrated into the school.

When Melba is twelve years old, the Supreme Court rules that separate schools for whites are illegal, a ruling called Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In the year after the ruling, Melba sees very little change in segregation. She is still at an all-black high school, but she and sixteen other black students sign up to attend the white school.

Because of the threat of violence, the number of black students who will participate in the integration is decreased from seventeen to nine. Several times in the few days before school is supposed to start, lawsuits are filed that threaten to stop the nine students. Governor Faubus declares that he is going to send the Arkansas National Guard to the high school, though he does not say whether they are there to protect the nine or to stop them from entering the school. Grandma India begins to stay awake at night with a shotgun near her. Finally, a few days after school has started, federal court judge Ronald Davies orders that the students be allowed to attend.

On September 3, 1957, Melba and her mother drive to Central High School for Melba’s first day of class. A huge white mob has gathered, and the Arkansas National Guard encircles the school. Luckily, both Melba and her mother make it to the car and escape unharmed. Melba is not allowed to leave her house or answer the door or the phone. She tells her grandmother that she wants to go back to Horace Mann, her old high school, but her grandmother insists that Melba is not a quitter.

President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus meet and attempt to resolve the problem of integration in Arkansas, but the meeting is unsuccessful, and on September 20, 1957, the State of Arkansas goes to federal court before Judge Davies. Judge Davies rules that the Arkansas National Guard must be removed and that the Little Rock Nine must be allowed into Central High School. Governor Faubus removes the guard and predicts that blood will run in the streets of Little Rock if the schools are integrated.

On Monday, September 23, 1957, Melba and the other black students go to school. They are again greeted by a mob of angry white people. In the middle of one class, Melba is forced to flee to the principal’s office, as the mob has broken the barricades and is headed for the school. Someone in the principal’s office proposes that they give the crowd one of the children to kill so the others can escape. Gene Smith, the assistant chief of police, smuggles the nine students out of the school. The day after the mob attack, Melba stays home and reads that President Eisenhower has announced he will use force to prevent this kind of mob rule and to enforce federal law. The next day, the 101st Airborne Division (a division of war heroes) arrives in Little Rock.

Each black student has his or her own escort from the 101st Airborne Division. Melba’s solider, Danny, protects her when someone attempts to throw acid in her eyes. In October, Melba, Ernie, and Minnijean meet with some of Central High’s white students under the guidance of a Norwegian reporter, Mrs. Jorumn Rickets, who hopes to foster some sort of understanding between the two groups. The meeting is a failure. Eisenhower withdraws the 101st Airborne, and the nine students are forced to rely on the Arkansas National Guard for protection. The Nine continue to be terrorized: one day, white girls attack Melba in the showers and hold her under scalding water. At the same time, the newspaper that Mrs. Bates (the President of the NAACP in Little Rock) runs is being financially ruined by white businesspeople, and the State Attorney is threatening NAACP officials across the state.

On December 17th, white boys surround Minnijean in the school cafeteria. Minnijean throws hot chili on two of the boys. Minnijean is suspended. The segregationists start a new chant: “One nigger down and eight to go.” Minnijean is allowed to return to school, and a short while later, a white boy pours a bucket of soup on her head. Later, the boy who poured soup on Minnijean attacks her, and a fight ensues. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but the white students allege that Minnijean fought back. Minnijean is expelled from Central High School, and three white students are suspended. The NAACP arranges for a scholarship for Minnijean at a high school in New York.

One day, Melba is almost surrounded by a group of white boys led by Andy, her main tormentor. She is saved by a white boy named Link, who gives her the keys to his car. That night, Melba returns Link’s car to him, and he begins to warn her of the plans that the segregationists have made for her. Melba and Link become friends. On April 16, Judge Davies is removed from the Little Rock integration lawsuits and replaced by an Arkansas judge named Harry Lemley.

One Saturday morning, Link and Melba visit Nana Healey, Link’s black nanny. Link thinks that Nana Healey has tuberculosis. Melba finds a doctor in the black community to tend to her. Nana Healey is dying, and Melba has to tell Link. Meanwhile, the integration case is reopened, with Judge Lemley presiding, and the school board once again asks for a postponement of integration at Central High School. Melba’s mother, Lois, is nearly fired from her teaching job of fourteen years because Melba won’t withdraw from Central High School. The end of the school year is approaching, and the segregationists are desperate to keep Ernie, the oldest of the nine, from graduating. Yet, on May 27, Ernie graduates. The next day, Link calls in tears. Nana Healey has died. Link asks Melba to leave Little Rock with him. Melba agrees to go, knowing she will not follow through with her promise.

By May 29, the Nine (including Minnijean) have begun a tour of the northern states, where they are treated like heroes and celebrities. Meanwhile, the integration effort in Little Rock is disintegrating. Judge Lemley grants the school board’s plea to delay integration for three years. The NAACP sets up a round of appeals, and by September of 1958, the students are gearing up for their second year at Central. Rather than allow that to happen, Governor Faubus shuts down all of Little Rock’s high schools. While Melba is waiting to return to school, Grandma India is diagnosed with leukemia and dies in October of 1958. By September of 1959, the NAACP has decided that the strain on the families is too great. They ask people in NAACP chapters across the country to take in the students. Melba is sent to Santa Rosa, California, to the home of the McCabes, a white Quaker family. The McCabes nurture and care for Melba and convince her to go to college in January of 1960.

In September of 1960, Central is again open to integration, but only two of the nine students are readmitted. They eventually graduate. Melba begins to attend San Francisco State University with predominantly white students. One night in 1962, while she is at school, a white soldier named John comes to her room to meet her roommate. There is mutual attraction, and soon they are engaged to be married. Melba relates how she keeps in touch with Link during this time. But when Link hears that she is getting married, and to a white man, he is furious, as Melba had always maintained she could not date a white man. They never speak again. Six months later, Melba and John are married. They have a daughter named Kelli. Seven years after their daughter’s birth, they split up because Melba wants to be a reporter and work, and John wants a housewife. Melba goes to journalism school at Columbia and becomes a reporter. She ends the book by saying that if her experience at Central High School has taught her anything, it is that we are all one.

Warriors Don’t Cry Chapter Summaries
Chapter 1 Summary

In this chapter, we learn some basic things about the main character, Melba, and we know that she is born on December 7th, 1941. Melba's birth was a complicated one, but she eventually made a full recovery and on top of all of that, Melba also had to go through the harsh reality of segregation when she was five years old.

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Chapter 2 Summary

In this chapter, the local newspapers talk about the Brown Vs. Board Of Education case, which was sent to the Supreme Court, but soon her teacher dismisses Melba’s class early, and the teacher told them to walk in groups and to hurry. They begin to enter a persimmon field soon, and soon a man starts chasing Melba down, and she was running as fast as possible, but unfortunately, the man quickly caught up to Melba.Melba eventually makes it home, after a tough fight. This attack is carried out by a racist.
Melba writes in her diary that it is important to read the newspaper, even if she has to spend a nickel of her own money to stay up to date about current events. The chapter ends with Melba's family are soon driving to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit their great uncle. Melba's family is being treated much more fairly in Cincinatti than ever before since they did not experience racism. At the end of the chapter, Melba wants to not go back to Little Rock.
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Chapter 3 Summary:

In this chapter, Melba was drowning in unfamiliar activities, specifically meetings that only allowed Melba to visit with her friends, and she felt comftorable being with Thelma, Minnijean, Carlotta, and Gloria, 4 of her friends. On Labor Day, Melba’s family gathered at her aunt’s house for a final picnic for the summer. On late Monday night, a ring of the phone woke Melba up, saying to wait until going to Central High. Melba writes to her diary, saying that they probably won’t like me. The chapter ends with Melba going to Central High.
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Chapter 4 Summary:
In this chapter, the mood of the chapter is scared, and Melba is going to Central High for the first time. When Elizabeth tried to get into Central High, she got shut out. There are big unusual crowds on the way. Melba is feeling anxious, then she sees the loud mob of people, and it turns into a riot with police and soldiers! Melba’s mom tells her that she can’t go outside. Additionally, her grandmother protects her by protecting her during the night hours.
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Chapter 5 Summary:

In this chapter, the press tells the government to cooperate with the Supreme Court ruling, which said that it was time to let the kids into the school. Melba is unhappy since she can’t go to wrestling matches with grandma. There is a 10-day respite given by the President to governor Faubus. There was a meeting with Thurgood Marshall, who was a famous lawyer . He says to the families to not give up in going to Central High. He says he is working on forcing intergration . Soon Little Rock Nine was being introduced afterwards. Melba is feeling good because she is being treated fairly by the white reporters, and they really cared about what Melba said. At the end of this chapter, she prayed to god.
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Chapter 6 Summary

In this chapter, Melba is in court. Melba’s group is being taken inside by a group of people, and they enter a very crowded elevator. Suddenly, uniformed men arrive and begin walking towards some business people. The group of people was all ordered to rise, and the hearing kept going on. Afterwards, after lunch, they saw Thurgood Marshall, who is black, is still affected by segregation. It was soon time for Melba’s group to present their case. The chapter ends with Melba finding out that she will be a Central High student, effective on Monday morning.
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Chapter 7 Summary

In this chapter, Melba reads in the morning newspaper, a headline titled Integration Halted again. The nine children acknowledged each other, and soon shouts became audible, and they were trying to keep niggers out. They go to meet Central High’s principal, Mrs. Huckaby, who gave them their schedules and homeroom assignments. A woman called Melba a nigger. The teacher soon starts with class. The same woman called Melba a nigger again. Soon Melba meets Mrs. Pickwick. Somebody asks what they are going to do about the nigger children. Soon they start speeding to get away from the people calling them niggers. Melba continues listening to the newscast that is currently happening. Soon the phone started ringing off the hook with angry calls from people. The chapter ends with an angry, mad mob in front of Central High.
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Chapter 8 Summary

In this chapter, Grandma and Melba ate dinner in front of the TV so that they could listen about what the current United States President, which at the time was Dwight D Eisenhower. Melba and grandmother are listening to what President Eisenhower thought about all of this fight about the current state of the United States, specifically what was going on in 1957 in the Southern US. It suddenly became very silent in Melba’s town, and almost no noise was made. Soon, at a ridiculous hour of the night, there was a knock on the door. Somebody said to let Melba go back to school, with protection. A lot of reporters were hanging from trees, really struggling to find out more about the current situation that was happening. Melba and her friends were a half-hour late to school, when they were ordered to move out of the way.

Melba quickly began to feel both proud and sad at the same time. Soon, Principal Mr. Matthows greeted the children, including Melba. Things improved in Mrs. Pickwick’s class. Melba went to lunch for what seemed like the biggest cafeteria that she had ever been in ever before. After lunch, Melba went to gym class. By the time Melba had reached Study Hall, a horrendous, troubling headache began to try to take control of Melba. Soon Melba was being asked all kinds of questions, like: • How were you treated? • Did anybody hit you? • Did anybody call you names?

On Thursday, September 26, 1957, we find out something about Melba’s protection in school. Melba quickly finds out and realizes that she has been assigned a bodyguard. The chapter ends with Melba taking note in her diary that today she was assigned a bodyguard.
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Chapter 9 Summary

In this chapter, Melba continues her quest with going to Central High. At this point in time, Melba has become adjusted with the military routine that she must follow when she enters Central High. Danny tells Melba that he is here to keep Melba alive.

Melba pushes and forces herself to survive a tough, fierce rest of the day at Central High. Melba quickly realizes that something isn’t quite as it’s supposed to be: On Friday’s, at Melba’s school, there is usually a boatload of kids here on Friday’s, but today, on Friday, Melba is practically alone, mysteriously. Soon Danny senses that there is dynamite coming their way, and thankfully, Melba and Danny manage to escape the dynamite and not get seriously hurt and/or injured.

Over the next twenty minutes, Melba’s brain was questioning what would happen tonight at the game. After an exhausting three days at Central High, Melba crashes into bed. The chapter ends with the third night, when Melba realizes that integration is a heck of a lot bigger than Melba had ever dreamed it would be.
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Chapter 10 Summary:

In this chapter, the National Guard is supposed to be at school, however, that doesn’t happen. They enter the school a different way, for the first time, and Melba is soon beaten up. Soon there are more attacks coming towards Melba when in the restroom, people throw pieces of paper that are on fire at Melba and try to burn her, and she had no escape! Melba thankfully stopped that madness by throwing books over the stall she was in to get the crowd out of there. Then another attack comes when a boy shines a bright light in Melba’s face and there is intense pain in her eyes. Suddenly, Danny, her bodyguard, throws cold water on her face to prevent her from blindness. Melba quickly goes to the eye doctor, finding out that Danny, her bodyguard had saved her vision. As a result, Melba needs to see the eye doctor weekly until they are certain that it is better, take medications, and wear glasses. The chapter ends with Melba being unusually lucky with her vision not being lost.
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Chapter 11 Summary:

In this chapter, the National Guard troops go down, while the attacks go up. There is a meeting with Superintendent Blossom and their families. The families wanted a security/ protection plan for their children, but Blossom said there was no plan, and he blamed the kids for the way that they are responding to the attackers. Soon superintendent Blossom is rude and angry to Mother Lois. Also, Minnejean wants to perform in the glee club ,and the Christmas Show, but all of her friends, including Melba, are strongly discouraging her. When it comes time for tryouts, it turns out that Minnejean has been tricked about the deadline for auditions, and was told that it passed days ago. A few days later, Melba finds out something heartbreaking: Danny is leaving Central High, and he didn't even tell Melba, and that Melba will probably never see him again.
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Chapter 12 Summary:

In this chapter, Melba is being attacked by some white kids. Students that were working together in teams were assigned to attack people who were black. For example, one group focused on weapons, while another slammed people into lockers, and there were even more violent ways that were being done besides that. Soon, we find out that integration had ruined Melba's 16th birthday, since none of her closest black friends from her old school showed up at her party. Melba's friends were afraid to come to her house. Melba soon hears that Marsha and her other friends can't be friends with her since they don't belong anymore. An attack soon happens on Minnejean by white kids in the cafeteria. Some boys were trapping and kicking her with her lunch in her hands. Minnejean's lunch happened to be a steamy bowl of chili. All of a sudden, by accident, Minnejean spills the chilli all over the two white boys. The whites are happy since Minnejean is soon taken away by a school official. The chapter ends with Minnejean getting suspended, and the whites are thrilled to hear this news. The news of the chili spill spread very quickly.
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Chapter 13 Summary:

In this chapter, the situation starts off with Melba being at a big adult Christmas party. This party was given by a black women's organization. The people there made her feel proud, and Melba feels hope for herself. It is now Christmas Eve, and Vince stopped by. Later, Papa Will dropped by to bring his presents. For Melba, Christmas dinner for her was a day for everyone in her family to catch up with one another. Melba hopes that by next Christmas, that things will have hopefully improved dramatically at Central High. Melba is thinking about Central High less and less now. The chapter ends with Melba making her New Year's resolutions.
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Chapter 14 Summary:
In this chapter, the school clearly didn't know how terrified the Little Rock Nine was. Melba realizes that she mentioned killing herself, which she now realizes it is a horrible idea. Soon Minnijean is attacked for the second time on Thursday, February 6, 1958, and she was attacked by a boy who dumped soup on her. At the end of the school day, Mrs. Huckaby delivered a envelope to Minnijean. When Minnijean opened the envelope,it was a suspension notice. On top of that, Superintendent Blossom recommended that Minnijean be expelled from school. Melba couldn't stop crying when Minnijean told her about the news. Melba soon finds out that Minnijean has been expelled, after a 40-minute hearing. The NAACP tried to reverse Minnijean's expulsion, but it failed to go through. Soon Melba could hardly speak. Melba tries to cheer Minnijean up, but it is no use. The chapter ends with Melba meeting more niggers.
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Chapter 15 Summary:

In this chapter, a man driving a white car from Central High drives right over Grandma India's flower garden, and over Melba's yard! When Melba went to school the next day, she found her locker open and that someone had dumped her textbooks out, and her regular things she carried to her classes. It took Melba until the end of lunchtime to report the case to Mrs. Huckaby, resulting in Melba missing some of her morning classes. The chapter ends with Melba meeting another nigger.
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Chapter 16 Summary:

In this chapter, Melba does some of the things that Gandhi told her to do. Melba realizes that Easter is coming soon. Melba and her family begin preparing the stockings for Easter. Soon Link calls, and he is mad since his senior activities have been cancelled. Link warns Melba to watch out for students with any election pamphlets. The chapter ends with Melba desperately needing a break from school on Easter Break.
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Chapter 17 Summary:

In this chapter, everyone inside Central High seemed to be talking about a film production of The Milkado. Soon Melba's neighborhood began to get more and more dismal. Soon Melba meets Mrs. Healey. Melba compliments Mrs. Healey that she looks very nice today. The chapter ends with tears coming down from Mrs. Healey's eyes, saying that Central High would only give her job back to her if they withdraw Melba immediately form Central High. They don't want Melba to finish her year here at Central High.
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Chapter 18 Summary:

This chapter is the final chapter of the book Warriors Don't Cry.In this chapter, Melba's family must take the risk of talking to local newspaper people. We find out that Melba's mom has lost her teaching job. Soon, the phone began to ring off the hook with people saying that they were on Melba's side. Later, Melba was wondering what her last few years at Central High would look like.Melba later prays to god, wishing that Ernie would be on her side. The next morning Link called, and he sounded as if he was about to fall apart. By September of 1958, Melba's group had won their court things. In September 1960, the NAACP( National Association For The Advancement of Colored People) had forced central high to integrate once again. In the end, Melba had followed her dreams.…...

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The Moon

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The Moon

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...or fail. I knew I passed and now no one was going to stop me on keep making my mom proud and go meet my best friend. I found out that I was capable of doing great things because I was smart. I was proud of to be smart, for the first time I was proud of myself. I was ready to through any difficult task of life. My best friend is everything, he is who I could trust and talk to, and he changed me by just a glimpse of him. He taught me the important lessons of life of not giving up and being strong. He was my silent inspiration of life, when ever I looked at him; it felt like he was giving me some kind of energy which I felt through his light which made me stronger everyday. He was a special someone, it was a God gift to me, it was the Moon....

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