Jun 2, 2009
Recently a new spelling bee champion was crowned. It is an honor for me to say Kavya Shivashankar is my cousin and it was a great experience to be able to visit and interview her in Washington D.C. this past weekend. I was also very lucky as well since I was able to meet the officials of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and Olympic gold medalist, Shawn Johnson who was the chief speaker at a banquet that was held for the spellers. This year, there was not only a record for the most spellers to compete (293), but the Bee also had the most viewers (10 million) this year, as well. These spellers are the best of the best because out of 11 million only 293 were eligible to complete.
Many people have a misconception of the spellers- that they are a “nerd,” or that they “have no life”. I am embarrassed to say, that I was one of them, until I met with many of the spellers. When I first arrived, I saw Kennyi Kwaku Aouad, who is mainly known for his sense of humor while spelling and the time he dominated the giggles when he received the word, “sardoodledom” two years ago. I did not know he would be as funny in person as he was on television. However, after spending time with many of the spellers, my opinions quickly changed. I realized these kids actually do have some fun in life, but they still maintain very important priorities, and I now respect all the hard work that they put into spelling.
2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion, Kavya Shivashankar
Tim Ruiter and Kyle Mou
Marsha with her famous spelling bee champion cousin sister, Kavya
Proud parents of Kavya Mirle and Sandhya Shivashankar enjoying the banqet with family members
Kavya and Aishwarya signing autographs to their fans at the Bee Banquet
Kavya having fun with her sister Vanya and cousins at a store
Ramya Auroprem of San Francisco, CA
In spite of the busy schedule, I was fortunate enough to get the interview of the new spelling champion, Kavya Shivashankar. In this interview, Kavya helped me understand how spelling affects one’s life as well:
Q: You have spent about six years preparing to be the winner of Scripps National Spelling Bee. What was the best part of the spelling competition?
A: “I enjoyed most of it, but I think the best part would probably be spelling my winning word, ‘laudicean’"
Q: Was there any time you felt as if spelling just was not your thing, or did you ever want to give up?
A: “Not really. I enjoy spelling. I love it”
Q: What are you going to use the money for? I heard you saying most of the money is going to college; does that mean you have something in mind that you may wish to buy?
A: “Not really, I might donate some for charity and some for NSF (North South Foundation for spelling bee competition) because if you give $250 to it, I think one person gets a scholarship. That’s what I do with my birthday money every year, and I also use the money that I have gotten from Scripp’s in the past years”
Q: The spelling bee preparation is a family event. Your sister, Vanya, who is just seven says she would maybe like to compete in the spelling bee too. I’m sure she’s already under training. Is your father going to be the one to coach her again, or are you going to be the main coach, especially after you have won?
A: “Well my dad’s the major coach, and I’m definitely going to help out by quizzing her and teacher her the roots and stuff. But my dad will still be the main coach”
Q: Do you think your sister will have a lot of pressure to be the winner since everyone knows that you are her sibling and you were the winner?
A: “I’m not sure yet, I don’t think so because it’s never happened that a winner’s sibling has ever won the Bee so it would, in a way, add more pressure because it’s never happened before and she would set history, but it depends on how she takes it”
Q: What would you like to say to any young spellers that want to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee some day?
A: “Well my advice would be that you have to know that you want to do it because it’s something that takes a lot of practice and dedication as well as time and effort because you have to study pretty hard. It doesn’t come easily.
Q: How does it make you feel to know that many young children are looking up to you right now?
A: “I think that’s great. It’s kind of a great honor to know that and I hope to set a good example”
Q: You’ve accomplished a lot. Many kids just spell, nothing else. You dance, play the violin, manage to keep great grades in school, and be the champion of the spelling bee. How hard was it to manage the time?
A: “Well first of all, I would like to point out that it’s not always true that the spellers just spell because many of them do have extracurricular activities, I also try to enjoy it and mix around with my extracurricular activities. It was kind of hard, but you just have to find time everyday”
Q: You talk so much about how your father coached you for the spelling bee, but did your mother play in this process?
A: “Oh definitely. She was a great source of encouragement and support and anything I asked, she would help me out and all that”
Q: You won the Jack and Jill spelling bee, which was just medical terminology, when you were just eight . Which competition was harder?
A: “Definitely Scripps. Nothing is harder to train for than Scripps. I mean, the Jack and Jill was really basic, it wasn’t too hard”
Q: People are asking for your autograph, to take a picture with you, and are congratulating you everywhere you go. Is it annoying or do you enjoy the interviews and being “famous”?
A: “It kind of gets tiring after a while. I guess I’m going to have to kind of get used to doing all that because in 2007 I had to go with this one other boy to help advertise for the Bee, and we were on a bunch of shows. I think the first few days after I won the Bee were kind of hard, but it’s better now. It was pretty exciting, though to be on some of the shows”
Q: So are you relieved that it’s finally over, now that you’ve finally won?
A: “In a way, I am relieved because it’s something that I’ve been wanting to achieve for such a long time, it’s been my dream. But, I’m also going to miss spelling, because it’s been such a big part of my life and I hope to kind of bring it back in by helping coach Vanya”
Q: You have been interviewed by national and international TV stations as well as a lot of newspapers, which interview has been your favorite? Or is there one in particular you are especially looking forward to?
A: “I’m really looking forward to the Jimmy Kimmel live show because of the little spelling bee he hosts because he’s really funny with the pronunciations and I’m probably going to have a lot of fun”
Q: Many people say that spelling bee competitors lose their childhood because they spend so much time preparing for it, do you think you have lost your childhood?
A: “No, I don’t because I know that I’ve been doing something that I really enjoy and it was something I really wanted to do. I mean, if it was something I didn’t want to do, then I would have said that, but spelling is my passion and I follow my passions”
Q: I was reading some online blogs and some people were saying that the spelling bee is a useless competition because all you say is a bunch of words and you win a bunch of money. So what’s your reaction to those comments, do you think it’s out of jealousy or something?
A: “I think sometimes people don’t understand that you just have to follow your passion because someone might say they like batting, I’m sure a lot of people think that’s useless, which I think it is, in my opinion. It’s something that I want to do, I’m just following my own passion, maybe it’s just their opinion that it’s not useful, but I think it’s very useful because spelling is something you use in everyday life. I don’t think it’s out of jealousy, I just think they don’t understand just like how the smart people in school are considered ‘nerds’ they just don’t understand the importance yet”
Q: So then why is the Scripp’s National Spelling Bee important to you? What do you see in it?
A: “It’s just something that I wanted to do and it’s something that I enjoy. It’s also a great opportunity and experience. It has taught me so much, like discipline and how to focus”
Q: Do you go to the movies? Have a favorite actor/actress?
“Haha, I go to the movies, and have favorite ones, but I don’t have a favorite actor/actress”
Q: Is there any question the media hasn’t asked that you are eager to answer, but just haven’t gotten the chance?
“No, not really, the questions have been pretty repetitive”
Q: Who is the one who discovered your talent and how did they discover?
A: I am not sure who discovered my talent. But I first got interest in it during my kindergarten years. I went to a private school and they had a program called The Vitamins to Reading, where they taught us the fundamentals of consonants and vowels. That subject got me interested into wanting to compete in the spelling bee.
I concluded my interview by asking few questions to Kavya’s sister, Vanya who is already training herself to be the Scripps National Spelling Bee Champ.
Q: Are you proud of your sister?
A: “Yeah, I’m really proud of my sister and what she has accomplished”
Q: Do you think you are going to win just like your sister? Do you want to win?
A: “Well, I want to win, but it depends on how much effort I put into it”
Q: Do you think you are going to try to come next year?
“Yeah, but only if my principal will let me”
Q: If you do go next year, you have the chance of being the youngest speller to ever win, is that something you really want to do, or do you want to wait a couple of years before claiming the title?
A: “I think I’m going to try to win, but I don’t think it will happen for some time”
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