To 2020 Eighth Grade Spellers--
First of all, I want to say that I’m sorry. You’ve put years of your life into this. You’ve poured every bit of you that you possibly can into early mornings and late nights learning about words. You’ve sacrificed social events and other extracurricular activities for this. There aren’t any good words (ironically enough) to describe how much you’ve truly put into this. You’ve done all of that in the hopes of having your moment on the stage, whether your goal was to win, make the finals, or even just make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And now you’re not sure whether you’ll have that chance, whether it might all be for nothing. If I had been in your position in eighth grade, I know that I would have been deeply devastated, so while Scripps made a decision in the best interest of everyone’s health, I am sorry that you have to go through this.
For those of you who were returning competitors for the second, third, fourth, even fifth time, I know this is exceptionally difficult. At the risk of sounding a little too cliché, there’s a piece of my heart in National Harbor that’s been there since my very first Bee Week in 2015. You’re there to be onstage, and that’s wonderful. There’s something so special about being at the microphone on that hexagon at the front of the stage under the lights with a dozen cameras clicking in front of you. It’s adrenaline-pumping, it’s ethereal, and it reminds you why you love what you do. There’s something irreplaceable about demonstrating your talent that you’ve spent thousands of hours of your life developing. And that’s why you’re there. But Bee Week is about so much more than just the competition. It’s meeting kids from all around the world who share your passion. It’s the giant hug circle as “We Are The Champions” plays at the very end of the farewell party. It’s mock bees in the hotel lobby at all hours. It’s getting accidentally kicked by your best friend poorly executing a cartwheel in an empty convention center at 2 in the morning (totally not speaking from experience on that one). And it’s so much more, too. There’s a sense of community, of joy, of inclusivity at Bee Week that I’ve never found anywhere else. For many returning eighth graders, I know this was supposed to be the highlight of your year, the week when you can do all of this one last time. But now it’s uncertain if you’ll have a bee at all, and even if you do, there’s no knowing how the format of the week might change to accommodate the nature of the situation. If this was supposed to be your first time at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, I feel for you as well--Bee Week has the power to be profoundly life-changing. I am the person I am today because of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and every bit of me is hoping that you get to have this experience in your last year of eligibility.
There’s no positive way to spin this. It sucks. The best you can do at this point is hope that Scripps will reschedule and keep studying with that hope in mind. Even if the worst case scenario turns out to be reality and there’s no bee at all, I sincerely believe that this won’t all have been for nothing. I know it’s easy for me to say because I’m not in your position, but it isn’t always about the competition in the end anyway. Four years removed from my last spelling bee, I’m of course thankful that I had the opportunity to compete. But even more than that, I’m thankful for the people I love that I met through spelling. I’m thankful that I got to discover, letter by letter, the wonder that is language. I’m thankful that I learned to work hard and learn to take both success and failure gracefully. At the end of the day, you’ve done all of those things too, whether the national bee happens in 2020 or not. Words, passion, learning, and friendship can’t be cancelled. So keep studying if you can, stay healthy, and take pride in everything you’ve accomplished thus far.
With love for the spelling community that made me who I am,