The steady blue glare of the stage emanated and expanded, lighting up the expectant faces of the audience. Rows of chairs were arranged behind me. At the beginning of that night, there were 15. 15 other familiar faces on the stage, waiting to take their turn. We were 15 friends even as we competed. When the bell of doom rang, everyone stood and applauded, not just out of sympathy but respect.They walked off the stage, which was as red as a stop sign, into the receiving embrace of a warm sofa. And yet round after round, the competition continued late into the night. The clock ticked past 10 and then 11. The words, like darts, ran circles around the children left on the stage. One flustered glance, one wrong turn of the mind, and all the dreams and aspirations of years of dedication sunk could sink into quicksand. Even as the judges dove deeper and deeper into the depths of the dictionary, a dwindling number managed to find their way into the depths of the finals, including me, to my own surprise.
It was my first time on national television and my first time at this point on the stage.The previous year, I had missed a word that I knew, which is the worst kind of mistake. That kind of mistake was embarrassing and almost disappointing because I constantly played back what I could have said in my head, but the simple fact remained unchanged.Yet, this time around, the dice I rolled always hit the lucky number, with more ease than I expected. Finally, it was down to the final two.We went back and forth for what seemed like an eternity. My mind was completely tuned to the moment, and I honestly cannot remember any other thought in my mind. To this day, 3 three years later, there are very few occurrences for which my focus was at such a level of intensity. The judges dug further and further into their list. Though my heart was beating fast, as I spelled my way through each round. Each word managed to strike the right note in my brain. Finally, I heard those words that I had watched on television for years: “If you spell the next word correctly, you will be declared the Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion.”.
My mind was focused, taut like a wire, and I treated this word, marocain, like any other. Consequently, I did not realize what had happened until the confetti fell down like little droplets from a rainbow.Neither was I prepared for what happened next. I was still in complete shock at winning, and at that very moment, I was surprised, to say the least, to see a microphone and hear the words, “ How do you feel?” I pulled together an answer, “It feels like a dream, very surreal”. I had visualized this moment for so long, but this part had never been a part of what I imagined.
I had joined the spelling bee because of my knack for words. But another unspoken factor was that it was not my natural instinct or desire to be in the spotlight. And there I was, launched into a world of interviews and attention! I learned that day that there is far more to the spelling bee than learning words. That may be the main event, but a deeper look reveals more. There’s the camaraderie and the unique patience required to wait an hour just to spell ten letters. In the spelling bee, everyone inherently understands that they are not competing against each other, but against the dictionary.
Yet, especially for me, publicity is a critical factor that never came into play when I was simply studying the words. The interviews lined up until 1 A.M., at which point, I was exhausted. My only desire was to sleep, ideally for a long time. Then, I was told, I would have to wake up at 6 A.M for more interviews. So I settled in to try to get the best 5 five hours of sleep possible.The following morning, regardless of my reservations and my weariness, I continued with all the interviews.
Granted, I was an extremely minor celebrity, but I was still unfamiliar with stardom. There were interviews every day, and nearly every time, I was asked the exact same questions to the point where I had a perfectly crafted response every time. The support I received in my hometown was immense. On the last day of school, I returned to school, and they even held a rally to welcome me back. Everyone had little posters with bees on them, and I even made a thank you speech. This moment was the perfect goodbye before going leaving elementary to attend junior high.
I remember walking up to the stage accompanied by my friends, almost like a royal procession! The love from my classmates and teachers was everywhere in the air. One of the most surprising parts after winning was that wherever I went, people would recognize me and say, “Congratulations!”. I would respond with a small smile and thank you.Eventually I became more poised, assertive, and more comfortable and confident with attention, among the many things I learned from spelling bee, which I wouldn’t trade for anything !