Back from the Bee, an eye-opening experience

— File photo by Carlene Gatting

I am writing to thank you for providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience — the chance to go to the National Scripps Spelling Bee. From the moment I arrived in Oxon Hill, Maryland, at the Gaylord Resort, I was excited, overwhelmed, enthusiastic, and filled with anticipation, and that was all at once. You first enter the hotel in a grand marble lobby, with a 17-story glass atrium overlooking the sparkling Potomac River. It is breathtaking.

The lobby and surrounding courtyards were filled with women with their heads carefully wrapped in scarves and many in floor-length robes with only a rectangle of their eyes showing. I expected there to be many spellers of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, but this was ridiculous. I later learned that the King of Saudi Arabia, where they provide billions of dollars in scholarship money to Saudi students, had flown many Saudi families over to America to celebrate the graduation of their Saudi college students. They were not there for the Bee.

After checking in, we went to check out the “room” where the Bee takes place. Well, it is a ballroom that must hold 2,000 people, with a colorful stage that stretched the width of the ballroom, and 281 seats on center stage for the spellers. Butterflies began to flutter in my stomach. Everywhere I turned there were kids from all over the country and as far away as China and Guam wearing their “Spellebrity” tee-shirts, and their families wearing their “Bee On” tee-shirts. We were an easy group to identify in this big resort.

When Bee day came, I could not lift my head off the pillow. My mom had given me some kind of cold medicine the night before to help my cold, allergies, and fever — and I never take medicine — and I was knocked out. I finally dressed quickly, splashed cold water on my face, and took my place on stage. I sat between two towering, giant boys. The lights were bright, and the ESPN cameras everywhere. The words started to come fast and furious while I waited for my turn, as No. 117. Some words that other spellers got, I knew — Beethovenian, meiosis — some I didn’t — brankursine, acervation. Really the luck of the draw. My luck ran out with “asana.” I did my best and learned to accept elimination gracefully — kind of. I really felt bad for the very first speller to be eliminated, who was from China, although he got a big round of applause, and then your parents meet you by the side of the stage. My mom just about carried me back to the room, where I slept for hours.

Then the real fun began. I visited more memorials, monuments, and museums and ate more frozen yogurt in two days than I have in all of my 11 years. My favorite was the World War II memorial, where I learned about where my grandfather fought and was a prisoner of war. It was also cooling to stand by the giant pool with fountains there. Did I mention that it was 90-plus degrees and that I learned that Washington, D.C., was built on a swamp and is therefore humid? As you can see, I learned a lot more than spelling while in D.C.

I feel really fortunate that I got to be a part of the National Spelling Bee, thanks to the MV Times. Scripps does such a great job of making all 281 spellers feel like champions. It was really well-organized with lots to do to mingle and get to know the other spellers. Everyone gets a Beekeeper picture book, like a yearbook, to get all the other spellers to sign. It was eye-opening for me to see the level of commitment and discipline the top spellers have to get where they did. All of the finalists had been there at least once before, and some three times before.

I’ll be at Falmouth Academy next year, so I won’t have a chance to compete again, but I have some triplet friends that I’m going to coach so they can be as fortunate as I was to get to the National Spelling Bee. I know one out of the three can make it.

Thanks to the newspaper for your generous support. Thanks, too, to Janet Hefler for the thoughtful article she wrote.

I hope I haven’t misspelled any words.