The caged bird sings to evoke control over its circumstances, to negate the power of its oppressor, and to reaffirm its existence despite attempts to strip it of its autonomy. Henry Reed's valedictory speech "To Be or Not to Be" exemplifies the singing of the caged bird, and his leading the graduates and audience in a rendition of "The Negro National Anthem" pushed back the bars of the cage and renewed the independence of the audience, his classmates, and himself. Reed shows the people there that even though they are beat down and put inside a cage of oppression they can fight back and free themselves.
When Edward Donleavy addresses the group, he opens his mouth and condemns Lafayette County Training School's graduating class to nothing more than feats of servitude and athleticism: "The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls weren't even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owenses and Joe Louises" (37).
Fortunately, Henry Reed was able to fight back against Donleavy's spell. He took the words spewed by Donleavy and showed them to be false. By his own actions he showed that his race was not condemned to a life of oppression. He looked past the cage that had crashed down around him and acknowledged his desire "To Be". He combated Donleavy's words with his own and restored the graduation ceremony. Reed's speech negated the power of the man who had put the graduates and their family members into their "proper, oppressed places" and gave them back their desire "To Be".
Having firmly established in his speech that there was still a reason "To Be", Henry Reed moves his audience to song, and as they are...