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After almost a year-long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally back and excited to share spelling tips, word analysis and other orthographic information with you all again this summer! What better an occasion to start back on than the 91st annual Scripps National Spelling Bee? I had the pleasure of attending this fantastic event, and I left feeling ecstatic and inspired as usual. The 2018 Scripps bee made history in more ways than one; it marks the implementation of the new invitation system dubbed ‘RSVBee,’ which provides an opportunity for spellers kept out of the big bee by tough regional competitions or circumstances out of their control to attend nationals. Due to the added 225 RSVBee contestants, this year’s bee was also the largest in history, with a grand total of 516 spellers competing (maybe 515 or 517 - I’ve heard different counts from different sources). Despite these changes, the spirit of camaraderie and good-natured competition did not leave the bee; as always, Bee Week was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime adventure during which unforgettable memories were made.

The festivities started on Sunday afternoon with registration, where spellers received their beekeepers and went right to exchanging autographs beneath the banners in the Hall of Champions. On Monday, the Memorial Day barbecue was held at the beautiful National Arboretum; this shindig featured food, dancing, beanbag toss (which morphed into more of a beanbag war before all was said and done), a tour of the arboretum, soccer and much more. The opening ceremonies also took place that night, readying spellers for the competition to come. Early Tuesday morning, spellers took the preliminary test, and all day on Tuesday and Wednesday were the preliminary rounds. On Wednesday night, the names of the 41 finalists were announced, and so was the preliminary test cutoff. This year, the minimum score to be named a Scripps finalist was a 28 - one point lower than last year’s. This likely resulted from the preliminary test being more difficult than those of past years; this is evidenced by the fact that no one scored perfect (the highest score was a 33). It was likely designed to cut out all the excess spellers gained by RSVBee while still giving them a chance to demonstrate their spelling knowledge on stage during Round 3.

The finals began on Thursday morning, lasting until 2:30 that afternoon. Interestingly enough, the morning finals lasted one round longer than usual in a futile attempt to cut the crowd of seasoned spellers down to 12 or fewer, the number required for finals, but just like last year, the words simply were no match for the finalist crowd. At the end, 16 spellers remained, the largest group of night finalists the Scripps scene has ever witnessed. The night finals began at 8:30 and lasted a mere two hours as opposed to last year’s almost four-hour bee. Eight of the finalists misspelled in the first two rounds of night finals, halfing the competition. It took eight more rounds to whittle the field down to only one speller, my very own student Karthik Nemmani, who spelled the words haecceitas and koinonia to win it all as the first RSVBee champion in history. He certainly proved that the RSVBee system exposes great talent that otherwise might remain hidden and enriches the bee program as a whole. I am very proud of him!

The Bee Week festivities came to a close with the banquet and the farewell party, where spellers said their goodbyes to friends they made throughout the week. But these goodbyes are not forever; those bonds, forged in the crucible of an unforgiving competiton, would endure. I’ve found that the friends one makes during the national spelling bee are among the most lasting gifts Bee Week gives to its attendees. In the way of intense competition as well as in the celebration of hard work, perseverance, passion and most of all, the English language, this year’s bee certainly did not disappoint! I cannot wait to be back next year! Next week, I’ll be blogging analytically about this year’s bee, so stay tuned for some statistics, trends and number-crunching!

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