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Local student reflects on spelling bee experience

By Aashray Mandala/Special to the Tribune • Jun 2, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Editor’s note: Aashray Mandala is a seventh-grader at Lakeshore Middle School. He competed this week at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — A new day brought excitement for the final 40 students who took the stage Thursday morning to begin the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The energy in the room also felt different than the previous days. The intensity was palpable as the broadcast lights of ESPN 2 filled the ballroom.

The remaining contestants were more than just capable spellers  — they were the best of the best. They not only had to spell words correctly in rounds 2 and 3, they had to score at least a 29 out of 30 on the preliminary test. The preliminary test included 12 spelling words such as “canaille” and “achromatopsia,” and 14 vocabulary words such as “prosoplasia” and “gaufrette.”

Two of the final 40 represented Michigan: Brendan Pawlicki, 10, from Macomb County; and Varad Mulay from Pontiac.

Pawlicki exited with the first word of the final round by incorrectly spelling “desman.” Mulay heard the disappointing ring of the bell after incorrectly spelling “warison” in Round 5.

Michigan has had one previous champion — Louis Sissman, winning with the word “initials” in 1941.

Thursday also brought renewal for me. The disappointment of the previous day was replaced with gratification from the accomplishment of reaching the National Spelling Bee finals and also correctly spelling the word “Sicily” in the second round.

It’s pretty cool to get to mingle with people who could be the future champion of the bee. Also, it’s not all about the spelling during Bee Week. Only three of the six days here were about spelling. The whole week involves other events such as the barbecue at the Washington Nationals’ ball park, tours of D.C. and the celebration banquet on Friday.

I’ve seen the event on TV in previous years, but I wasn’t aware of how much time and effort goes into the bee. There are lots of behind-the-scenes work that goes into the production. The resort hotel, Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Maryland, is also amazing. Kindle, the title sponsor, also has an interactive exhibit for bee participants and fans that make the experience special.

It’s nice to meet the other contestants who have other interests and are well-rounded like me. The ones I’ve met are very humble and personable.

I also met previous champions in the events leading up to the bee, including National Spelling Bee pronouncer and face of the spelling bee, Dr. Jacques Bailly. It was incredible seeing him in person, and he noticed that I had two A’s at the beginning of my name. He asked why, and I explained to him that if my name had the traditional spelling of Ashray, my name would have the unlucky number of 13 letters. My mom, Shanthi, added the additional A at the front to make a total of 14.

This year’s experience has increased my motivation for next year. I know that it means more studying, especially roots. For example, on the written test, the word “otology” appeared. From my background with the Science Olympiad event called Anatomy, I knew that “ot” meant of the ear and “ology” means the study of. I scored 21 out of 30 on the preliminary written test.

I also plan to learn more about the parts of speech for words, as that impacts the way words are spelled. This played out with my Round 3 word, “pilferer.” As a noun, it could have clued me into an “er” ending, instead of the “or.” I was thinking of similar words such as tailor or dictator. When I first heard the word, I knew what it meant, but was unsure of the ending. I asked some questions to buy time to think about the “er” or the “or” ending. I had a 50 percent chance and picked the wrong one.

I’m thankful for the opportunity provided by Grand Haven Area Public Schools, and the primary sponsor Kent Intermediate School District. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the tremendous experience of competing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals.

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