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Although he is the celebrated author of Hummingbird Hill , Lynn Belvedere is almost a pauper because of several libel suits that have been brought against the book. He has won a large cash award, but the bequeathing foundation requires that the winner must have a college degree, which Belvedere lacks. Belvedere informs the Dean of Men at Clemens University that, although he has had no formal education since the age of six, he intends to complete the four-year degree in one year. The president of Clemens decrees that before being admitted, Belvedere will have to take a series of entrance exams. After easily passing all of the tests, Belvedere, who is a natural genius, is accepted as a student on the condition that he bring no notoriety to the university. He is then assigned to share a dorm room with Corny Whittaker, a fellow freshman, and with Avery Brubaker, a sophomore who tries to boss him about. Shortly after classes start, Ellen Baker approaches Belvedere for an interview for the school newspaper, but he refuses. As he requires part-time employment, Belvedere goes to the student employment bureau, which is run by Bill Chase, who is interested in Ellen. Belvedere accepts the only job available and becomes a hasher at a sorority house, where Bill's mother is the house mother. When Belvedere is assigned to assist Avery in the house, he convinces his nemesis to call a truce. Bill then introduces Ellen to his mother, who assumes the young woman is a member of a socially prominent family. At dinner, Belvedere reprimands several of the girls for their lack of etiquette and punctuality. Later, Belvedere is forced to appear before the Sophomore Council to explain why he has shaved during "Whisker Week." Instead of the usual punishment of a paddling, Belvedere is sentenced to wear a false beard until told to remove it. A photograph of the "trial," which Ellen took in secret, appears in the university newspaper along with an article in which Belvedere is quoted, criticizing co-eds and athletes. Dr. Keating, the university president, is concerned about the article's impact on the community, and Belvedere is summoned to Dean Gibbs's office. Belvedere explains that he did not make the comments for publication and intends to sue the university and Ellen. When Belvedere calls on Ellen to discuss the matter, he finds her out, but does meet her young son Davy. As soon as Ellen returns, Belvedere criticizes her for printing gossip and refuses to give his consent to a full-length article she has agreed to do for a major magazine. Later, at an intramural sports competition, Belvedere is content to read in the stands until Corny explains to him that they can immediately stop wearing their demeaning freshman caps if the freshman team wins the contest. This galvanizes Belvedere into action, and he participates in the deciding event, the pole vault. His winning jump is just four inches short of the all-time record, which he set in 1922. Meanwhile, Bill has become serious about Ellen, and she invites him into her apartment, where he meets Davy. After she explains that her husband was killed in the war, Bill, stunned, leaves abruptly. A few weeks pass and Belvedere is about to become a junior when Bill returns to see Ellen, explaining that it has taken him a little time to get used to the fact that she is a widow. Later, Mrs. Chase phones to invite Ellen to dinner as a prospective sorority member, then learns from Avery that she has a child. Although Belvedere interjects that Ellen is a widow, Mrs. Chase is not at all pleased to learn that Bill and Ellen are engaged. Ellen thinks Belvedere has retaliated by telling Mrs. Chase gossip and determines to finish her piece for Look magazine. When Bill warns Ellen that she and Belvedere could both be expelled, he and Ellen fight. Belvedere goes to Ellen's apartment to reason with her but, thinking he is Bill, she refuses to let him in. Belvedere attempts to enter using a fire escape and ledge, but is spotted by two policemen who follow him and find him hiding in Davy's room. When Ellen then denies knowing him, the police arrest him as a Peeping Tom. At the precinct station, Belvedere demands to make a phone call and places a person-to-person, collect call to his old friend, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. Ellen, Bill, his mother and others come to the jail and Ellen arranges to have the charges dropped and presents Belvedere with her article. At the annual commencement ceremony on campus, President Keating congratulates Belvedere on keeping his word about publicity and notoriety. As he had anticipated, Belvedere has earned his degree in one year and is class valedictorian. Dean Gibbs presents Belvedere with his degree and in return Belvedere presents Gibbs with a copy of the latest issue of Look magazine featuring Ellen's article and a cover photograph of the presentation Gibbs has made only seconds before.