P-R-O-C-H-O-O-S. It means a tall slender ancient Greek jug. I had to spell this word in front of millions of people live on ESPN at the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year.
When I reminisce about my spelling bee journey, I am reminded of all the hard work that I put in and how sweet it felt to be rewarded.
Some kids play soccer. Others play chess. For me, competing in spelling bees is important because I am passionate about linguistics and it helps me improve my vocabulary.
My journey started in kindergarten, when I won second place in the school competing against fifth graders. My parents realized I had a penchant for spelling. I won in third grade on my first try and went to my first regionals. I was the youngest and the center of attention. I was clenching my dad’s hand and asking him why everyone was staring at me. When I got on stage, I was scared, but managed it.
When I misspelled my second word, I was extremely upset for the next few days. That failure, however, pushed me to work harder. The next year, I placed fifth at the regionals. In 2015, I reached my goal: I won the regional bee and went to nationals in Washington, D.C.
We all gathered in a magnificent ballroom where Paige Kimble, the National Spelling Bee director, explained the schedule for the week and how we were each one in a million. The next day was a barbecue. Activities included sand art, face painting and dancing. It helped calm my nerves down.
Day 1 of competition started with the preliminaries. I had been watching Jacques Bailly pronounce words at nationals since first grade, so it was a dream come true to see him in person. I had seen the spelling stage on TV, but it was a radically different experience to be there. As I approached the microphone for my first word, I took a deep breath and got ready.
“Your word is, ‘picaresque,’ ” Bailly said. The word was familiar. I asked for all the information, and spelled it correctly. When the results were announced the next day and I had made it to the semifinals, I was in ecstasy. But I hardly had time to breathe. I had to rush to the semifinals test. It was hard, but I advanced to finals – the top 10.
Finally, the big day was here. All the finalists had a special interview with ESPN, and a professional hair and makeup session. I felt like a celebrity. I stepped on stage, spelled my first two words right, but misspelled my third. That placed me fourth. I was disappointed but thankful I had another year to try again.
The week, however, wasn’t over yet. The next day, we toured Washington and had an awards banquet. Bailly gave a speech honoring our hard work. I felt special.
I returned home with the determination to go back next year and do better. I made it back to nationals in 2016, and proudly ended my spelling bee career as runner-up with the satisfaction that I represented Folsom the best I could.
I will be there Thursday night for the 2017 nationals as a spectator, encouraging my friends and other students.
Snehaa Ganesh Kumar will be a sophomore at Vista Del Lago High School in Folsom and coaches spellers at Hexco Academic.