We are the Champions

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And by “we” I mean nerdy South Asian American kids. One sports writer seems a little bitter that his “home team” lost:
You can’t really resent 13-year old kids in the same way you resent pro athletes, but wow, the little knowing smirk the eventual champion displayed when she clearly knew just about every word she was handed was tough to take. Hey, when you’ve got the goods, might as well flaunt it. [Link]

I have been following the Twitter account of finalist Tussah Heera as well. Sweet kid and it is good to hear the unfiltered perspective from the inside. The Scripps Bee Twitter account also has lots of great pictures and info. Walk to and around the office tall today my fellow South Asian Americans. You’ve ummmmm (cough cough) earned it. And a big ups for all the participants. It was way better than the Cavs-Magic game last night.

45 thoughts on “We are the Champions

  1. First, congratulations to Kavya Shivashankar and all the other participants: your long months of hard work paid off. Wish you all more success to come.

    Regarding Abhi’s “walk tall around the office” injunction, no no amigo. By now we should be as blase about a desi kid winning the Spelling Bee as someone from East Africa would be about the winner of a marathon, or Canadians about eating raw seal hearts.

  2. nerdy South Asian American kids

    Actually another contest which doesn’t get as much media attention and where desi kids consistently are amongst the finalists is the Intel science talent search. This year there were there three desis in the top ten.

  3. what a sorry bunch of geeks…the perpetual question, why do Indian-American parents latch onto the spelling bees to exhibit some sort of excellence? i never attended any back in india ( i attended quiz competitions tho’, but totally voluntarily)…? what good will laodicean or apodyterium ever do? allow them somehow to be better neurosurgeons? or..or is it the passport to the ivies?

    do these kids get enough playtime? i know a couple of these kids and all they are made to do are these spelling/geog bee contests..pathetic…let me get back to my gilli-danda game, bhai…

  4. do these kids get enough playtime? i know a couple of these kids and *all* they are made to do are these spelling/geog bee contests..

    Are you looking forward to reading their future tell-all memoires?

    Congratulations to Kavya looks like she hit the genetic jackpot – she’s smart and a beaut. You go girl!

  5. Congrats to the kids, though I have to say I am embarrassed over the mindset of the desi parents that prizes this kind of rote memorization. I understand Math League, short story contests and even geography bees, but spelling? Learning phonetic rules and common latin/greek roots is essential, but it is the same impulse that drives your crazy uncle to aim for the longest toenails Guinness Record that compels him to turn his kid into a veal calf/shut-in.

  6. This year’s winner, Shivashankar, cited Nupur Lala, who took home the big prize in 1999 and was featured in the 2002 documentary film “Spellbound,” as her role model.

    In an interview with ABCNews.com earlier this week, Lala, now a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said she tells champions to expect “the summer after you win the spelling bee to be a whirlwind and all the memories will start coming back after.”

    I’m not psychiatrist or scientist, but spelling and learning the roots and meanings of these words has probably increased their brain size to allow them to accomplish anything they want to :) (that’s my take from a very average accomplished, but happy individual).

    The little kid is so cute…your right Bess she did hit the jackpot – brains and looks. But looking at her mom, I can see where she got her looks from.

  7. A suggestion to Bah Humbug Spelling Bee crowd, who will make a scheduled appearance shortly: Before wondering why we aren’t good at ____, you may want to take a closer look at your buff, talented selves.

  8. Congratulations to Kavya!

    Knowing so many words, and their meaning, she is already prepared for the GRE verbal section.

  9. Unfortunately the Spelling Bee is the other side of the Special Olympics coin. People (like the ABC correspondents) want to be PC and appear like they are genuinely interested in this event. Truth is that most of the spectators are barely able to keep from outright mocking the participants because of their geekiness and eccentricities.

  10. Congrats to the winner, although a South Asian-origin winner now seems like so much of a fait accompli, doesn’t it?

    Frankly, I don’t really get why spelling bees are such a big deal. I mean, isn’t being able to spell correctly sort of a superfluous/redundant skill in this day-and-age. Yes, spelling bee training gives you the ability to recognize root words and cognomens, etc. But it’s not really a useful life skill. shrugs

    It’s very telling that the US (and more recently, Canada) are the only two places where anyone thinks spelling is important enough to have a national competition.

  11. Dude, Will Shortz is probably the best part of that thing. Just sayin’…

  12. Wow, Manju! Thank you for posting that smear piece containing absolutely nothing in the way of proof, and only making its case through unsourced rumor, hearsay, and innuendo. That you think this is legitimate journalism, to say nothing of posting it in an article about a SPELLING BEE, brings up profound questions regarding your intelligence, such as “At what age did it fall off?”

  13. “we are the champions?” did we reinstate Freddy’s desi card? i didn’t get the memo.

  14. The little kid is so cute…your right Bess she did hit the jackpot – brains and looks. But looking at her mom, I can see where she got her looks from

    She has appeared in finals for the third time If you are curious then check out the comments (sepia archives) that some folks had made on how she lookedd when she was 10 or 11. cruel

  15. Hahaha, I was flippin’ between this and the Cavs-Magic game yesterday with my family, and there was NO doubt that our fam had more interest in the bee (I’m a lifelong Nuggets fan anyways :P , and the Magic have this in the bag…I hope). Admittedly, I was making fun of the people constantly (that’s part of the fun) but there’s no doubt that these events have some SERIOUS drama. Back in ’04, when I was in the top 5 in the Colorado state Geography Bee, you could just FEEL the emotions after each question was answered. It’s truly unique stuff. It’s cool that another brown person took this competition though; we’ve had 5 of the last 7 winners! A proud moment…I guess. haha

  16. spell check has been invented.

    what exactly is the point of the bee? i mean why not focus energy on music, sports, arts, or other activities.

  17. All these utilitarians out there, who keep on questioning what is the use of the bee, need to start questioning all their individual activities to see, how many useful activities they engage in on a daily basis. beeswax, I could ask the same question about what is the use of “music, sports, arts or other activities” (I guess anything but spelling bee?) Let everyone decide on their own what is interesting for them to engage in, rather being told they need to engage in horse shoe throwing, cow tipping, cheerleading, pole dancing, extreme sports, buul-riding and so on except spelling bee!!!

    By the way looks like the Chinese have cornered the Math Counts competition while the Indians are focusing on the spelling bee. Where are all the quant desi kids?

    1997: Zhihao (Howard) Liu, Wisconsin 1998: Ricky Liu, Massachusetts 1999: Po-Ru Loh, Wisconsin 2000: Ruozhou (Joe) Jia, Illinois 2001: Ryan Ko, New Jersey 2002: Albert Ni, Illinois 2003: Adam Hesterberg, Washington 2004: Gregory Gauthier, Illinois 2005: Neal Wu, Louisiana 2006: Daesun Yim, New Jersey 2007: Kevin Chen, Texas 2008: Darryl Wu, Washington 2009: Bobby Shen, Texas

    From: MathCounts Historical Results

  18. 18:

    “spell check has been invented. what exactly is the point of the bee?”

    What is the point of a sprint? Bikes and cars have been invented.

    What is the point of a weightlifting competition? Forklifts and cranes have been invented.

    And even as a fan of basketball, I just don’t see the point of striving so hard to put the ball in the basket. What exactly is the point again?

  19. It does annoy me when I go into a neighborhood that I know is majority Indian and I dont see any of the kids outside playing because their parents are making them study 7 hours a day even in the summer time, but I guess things could be worse.

    However I think that what these kids do is amazing. They might not use their spelling skills in everyday life, but what they learn from it, is focus and competitiveness and with those 2 traits I think you are set for a happy life.

  20. It does annoy me when I go into a neighborhood that I know is majority Indian and I dont see any of the kids outside playing because their parents are making them study 7 hours a day even in the summer time, but I guess things could be worse.

    I don’t think this is an Indian thing or a studying 7 hours a day thing. I think kids just don’t play outside anymore. They have video games now.

  21. i mean why not focus energy on music, sports, arts, or other activities.

    get with the program beeswax. we convince the umricans to focus on music, sports, arts, and such. they go off to sarah lawrence and get degrees in social consciousness while we end up studying physics at mit. then from our perches at silicon valley and cayman island domiciled hedge funds, we control the world. of course, we still have those pesky chinese to deal with, as “Just Because” warns, but since we control the computers all info flows thru us. therefore, we can just frontrun their trades. nonetheless, i still fear oprah.

  22. people talking about the brown angle. note the female preponderance among the finalists. out of the 7 brown finalists i think 6 were girls.

  23. A lot of medicine is about learning to attach fancy Latin names for everyday ailments and body parts (and then throwing that lingo around so that people think you are more learned). Being a bee should help a lot there. It would also help in learning pharmacology — if you have done a lot of etymology, learning organic chemistry names is a breeze. The GRE verbal test, which someone pointed out above, is another angle. More broadly, the words may be learned by rote now, but eventually, they will lock on to what they stand for, and how the concepts evolved. That would help generate perspective. Similar to how people start understanding and appreciating the principles underlying calculus and trigonometry not when they learn to solve problems in school, but later in life (say in graduate school). You cannot become a bee without a passion for language, that by itself is a huge advantage.

    Not sure how being a bee would help in doing neurosurgery, but overall bees would certainly have an advantage in getting into the track for it.

  24. i dunno. how hard can this bee thing be anyways? its not rocket surgery, is it?

  25. Im just glad she was able to form a coherent sentence, unlike that incompetent goon a couple years back. That kid was ridiculously awkward, at least most of these indian kids have a modicum of social skill.

  26. It does annoy me when I go into a neighborhood that I know is majority Indian and I dont see any of the kids outside playing because their parents are making them study 7 hours a day even in the summer time, but I guess things could be worse.

    Actually that’s more the signs of current time in US I think. I live in a very non-Indian (and predominantly Caucasian may I add) neighborhood, and I have hardly ever seen any human being outside their homes, let alone kids playing. On the contrary, I still see kids playing outside in India (of whatever ‘outside’ then can find)

  27. That kid was ridiculously awkward, at least most of these indian kids have a modicum of social skill

    I am not sure who are you talking about. I have followed this or spelling bee for years – most of the kids seem very well adjusted. Lot of them go to public schools in places like Michigan and Kansas – I’d say that it takes a higher degree of social skills to maneuver through a high school in the ‘heartland’ if one is brown. These are “KIDS” for haven’s sake.

    I remember one kid, G Thampy, who had a pretty prominent lisp and some may find him awkward – Thampy assisted in hosting one of the bees in recent past. He has grown into a pretty decent young man.

    I am surprised why some desis (ABD or DBD alike) are embarrassed at the success of desi kids in these bees. I wish these losers were raised in an environment where they could cultivate a modicum of self esteem. Rather than deprecating at the success of these “kids” and thus demonstrating heir own deep set inferiority complex and insecurities they could perhaps appreciate the sheer hard work that these kids put into preparing for bees. One of my coworkers (FOB desi afflicted with an MBA) told me that he will never allow his son (who is only a few months old) to associate with kids who are into this spelling bee business.

    Expert level ‘word smithy’ is why most of people visit this blog. I am not sure you are here, not getting much action at the local BAPS temple?

  28. yeah, the mom is hot. can’t belive i didn’t catch that first time around. she’s understated, like when sarah palin does her librarian look. one needs to do a double take b/f catching it. wonder if she’s reading this?

  29. I wish these losers were raised in an environment where they could cultivate a modicum of self esteem. Rather than deprecating at the success of these “kids” and thus demonstrating heir own deep set inferiority complex and insecurities they could perhaps appreciate the sheer hard work that these kids put into preparing for bees.

    Most of themn say it jokingly. It has a comical dimension, and shows the self-deprecating good humor of those who joke about it. Especially when it leads to highly-strung people who actually follow these kinds of things to rant about people’s self-esteem. That adds to the comedy surrounding it all. A mock-documentary in the style of The Office is waiting to be made about it. The above quoted speech, will have them rolling in the aisles.

  30. The past desi Spelling Bee winners have gone on to do well in whatever endeavors they chose. Sample the following.

    After he graduated from medical school, Balu worked in a sports medicine fellowship in Minneapolis. Balu and his wife Meenakshi and their two sons currently live in suburban Chicago, where Balu has a solo practice in internal and sports medicine. He is also the National Medical Director of Seasons Hospice, which takes care of terminally ill patients. Balu does some professional writing, too. He has contributed book chapters to the Team Physician’s Handbook, Sports Medicine Secrets, and The Expert Guide to Sports Medicine and vouches that “the experiences from the spelling bee come in quite handy when writing.” He complements his writing with frequent lectures on various sports medicine subjects to audiences in the United States and in foreign countries.

    1985 Winner Balu Natarajan

    Finishing high school in three years, at 16 Ragashree entered Stanford. After graduating, she went on to earn a joint MD–PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied cell and molecular biology.[4] Currently, she is a Ph. D and M.D. resident in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

    1988 Winner Rageshree Ramachandran

    She enrolled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 2003 to study brain and cognitive sciences, and graduated in 2007. She was once offered a chance to appear on an MTV reality show, but she decided against it as it was “too invasive.”[2]. She is currently a Technical Assistant at MIT in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

    1999 Winner Nupur Lala

    Thampy also competed in the National Geographic Bee in 2000, taking second place in that competition one week before he won the National Spelling Bee. He was homeschooled through eighth grade, and then went on to attend Westminster Christian Academy in Saint Louis, Missouri. After becoming an Eagle Scout and graduating as valedictorian of Westminster Christian Academy in 2005, he went on to attend Harvard University in the Fall of 2006, concentrating in Chemistry. He currently resides in Mather House.

    2000 Winner George Thampy

    2002 Winner Pratyush Buddiga is at Duke.

    From the list of past winners of Spelling Bee

  31. i know that the spelling bee is a lot more than memorization, but for the record, there’s a pretty good correlation between good working memory and IQ.

  32. The kids demonstrate discipline which is required for future academic & professional success, but the best predictor of success in the verbal portions of standardized tests is a love of reading….with a dictionary around when an unfamiliar word is encountered. Anyway I am sure some of these kids are self motivated, I apologize for assuming that there must be type A parents behind this drive to become lexical hegemons.

  33. Rachel Maddow interviewed Kavya today. http://rachel.msnbc.com

    I’m amazed at the poise and confidence in this 13 year old, who’d like to be a neurosurgeon (no surprises there)

    How many ppl can spell or pronounce her last name? S.h.i.v.a.s.h.a.n.k.a.r. My theory on why Indians excel at spelling bees : our long and twisty surnames.

  34. It’s a pity Aishwarya’s parents didn’t have her reading Asterix comics- if nothing else that’d have ensured she survived for another round and given us the female equivalent of last year’s face off between Sameer and Siddarth.

  35. Most of themn say it jokingly. It has a comical dimension, and shows the self-deprecating good humor of those who joke about it

    “Self-deprecating” hmmm… you may want to look it up.

    Mocking a kid who has just became a teenager, how is that selfdeprecating ?

  36. It’s a pity Aishwarya’s parents didn’t have her reading Asterix comics

    This exactly what my wife and I were talking about when we saw her misspell menhir.

  37. “we are the champions?” did we reinstate Freddy’s desi card?

    As usual, Manju has the best line.

  38. Astronaut Sir/ Senator, I request to not to blog for the sake of resistance.

    Skynet is closing in (Hint: Razib is a T-600).

    Some of the spelling bee finalists are T-800s.

    In 2010 Spelling Bee, T-1000s will be brought in.

    The judgement day is getting close.

  39. Dekha lakh lakh pardesi kids, aint nobody like a desi kidddd :]

    im like serious, guys!

  40. I am a desi and I am all for intellectual accomplishment and I say well done to Kavya. At the same time I cringe a little at how cliched we tend to be. I do hope that her parents also give her a balanced life and pay attention to developing her as a well rounded individual-judging by the number of Desi spelling bee winners, I think it has something to do with stage parenting by their desi parents too. It is a little embarrassing to see how many desi nerds are around. In real life, book learning will only get you so far. It will also not prevent you from being beaten up in the schoolyard :) I saw this item on “The Onion”.

    “Spelling Bee Winner Fails To Spell Way Out of Schoolyard Beating”

    Perhaps this is why mostly Caucasians rule the world, not only do they produce thinkers, they also produce good soldiers and we on the other hand are a little one-dimensional in how we bring up our children.