The Scripps National Spelling Bee, that annual competition where focused & determined youngsters prove yet again that they are way smarter than the rest of us, was held recently. For the second consecutive year, two spellers tied for first place. Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, spelled “scherenschnitte” and Vanya Shivashankar, 13, spelled “nunatak” for the win. They outlasted almost 300 opponents who got eliminated after heartbreaking misspellings.
I can’t even spell “misspellings.”
However, I do have a connection to this year’s contest — popular national contestant and Mississippi first-place champion Dev Jaiswal was one of the spellers in my disastrous first-and-only attempt at being a spelling-bee pronouncer. And before you say “Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad” & “You’re being too hard on yourself,” please note that I have never ever ever been asked back. The truth is that, unlike the young spellers, I was unprepared & thought I could muddle through without much effort. To anyone else who’s asked to pronounce at a spelling bee: YOU CAN’T MUDDLE THROUGH. When the organizers gave me the words I’d have to pronounce and use in sentences a couple of weeks before the bee, I glanced through it and didn’t notice anything too intimidating. I should have looked harder. It was obvious, though, that unlike me, Dev and his co-contestants had approached the bee properly since we quickly zipped through the list — despite my increasingly stumbling pronunciations because WHERE THE HELL DID THESE WORDS COME FROM & WHY HAVEN’T I SEEN THEM BEFORE? — and had to call The Office Spelling Bee Folks for new words. After my failure was complete and avoiding the kind yet sorrowful eyes of the judges, I slipped out quietly and vowed to
immediately counteract my poor performance with fried sugary doughnut goodness prepare better in the future.
Thankfully, Dev apparently wasn’t as scarred by that experience as I was. He’s overcome the disadvantage of having me pronounce his words and gone on to become a spelling-bee celebrity. CNN even called him “The inDEVatigable Jaswal” and reported that although he didn’t win, his smile and graciousness earned him a standing ovation. And autograph requests. Autograph requests!
So, to conclude, this young man now has taught me 1) to do your best and 2) to be OK with whatever your “best” is. T-H-A-N-K-S, Dev. (“Thanks:” — plural of Middle English thank, from Old English thanc thought, gratitude; meaning “kindly or grateful thoughts;” used in a sentence as “Thanks, all of you spellers, for showing us what’s really important.”