Pakistani Brilliance in Evidence at the National Spelling Bee
By Fahim Hashmi

Sami Hashmi

Washington, DC: S-U-S-P-E-N-S-E-F-U-L. That word aptly describes the rounds of the much publicized 2006 Scripps National Selling Bee. One could almost feel the heightened tension in the air when a speller slowly uttered each letter. As each round progressed, some spellers exploded in victorious elation after spelling their word correctly, while others hung their heads in dejected defeat. The painful elimination of each speller was signified with the ding of a bell. Only one speller did not have to suffer from that dreadful sound, Katharine Close of New Jersey was the Champion of the National Spelling Bee. Amongst the contestants, there were only three spellers of Pakistani origin. It was amazing to watch the children of immigrant Pakistani families, whose mother tongue is not English compete at a national level in the United States.
All 275 spellers were winners in their local school county and regional spelling bees from across the nation. They proved themselves as competent spellers from an initial start of approximately 10 million spellers. Twelve-year-old sixth grader Sami Hashmi won his local bee in Florida. Maheen Rana, also a twelve-year-old, emerged victorious in a spelling battle between seven counties in California. Thirteen-year-old Midhat Patel triumphed over opponents to be one of the many spellers from Texas. All three Pakistani contestants attended the Bee for the second time. Sami Hashmi, Maheen Rana, and Midhat Patel all returned with one year of completion experience under their belts. They had spent hours studying for this event, and were glad to be in such a prestigious competition.
The competition took place inside the Grand Hyatt Hotel located in downtown Washington DC. Throughout the entire week the hotel buzzed with the activity of roving reporters, candid cameramen, studying spellers, and proud parents. One of the more interesting spectacles could be seen every day in the hotel lobby. Spellers seemed to be in a perpetual congregation using books, laptops, and dictionaries to prepare each other for the competition. Sami and Midhat usually frequented this close-knit group of spellers. “They had mini spelling bees, and I learned many new words,” said Sami Hashmi. “Everyone was really amiable and helped each other out”. This camaraderie evidently manifested itself throughout Bee Week, where spellers high fived each other on and off the stage when one or the other spelled a word correctly.
The first round of the competition was a written test, after which all spellers moved to the second round where they got a chance to earn a three point bonus to the written test score. After all scores were tallied for each speller, only a select few moved to the third round. Unfortunately, sixth grader Sami Hashmi did not make it past this round, albeit he spelled his oral word “emmeleia” correctly. However, Maheen and Midhat both proceeded to the next round, successfully earning enough points on their written tests. Maheen and Midhat also made it through the third of the competition. In the fourth round however, both Maheen and Midhat spelled their word incorrectly and were knocked out of the competition with a harsh ding of the bell. Midhat misspelled “cassideous” and Maheen stumbled on the word “papeterie”. Midhat felt “disappointed”, but still had fun at the Bee. His favorite part during the week: a Memorial Day outdoor barbecue. Maheen also felt disappointed but is content that she “tried her best”.
However, Sami and Maheen both hope to return next year to the National Spelling Bee. Unfortunately, Midhat will not be able to compete in future Bees, as he enters ninth grade this coming school year. However, he hopes his younger siblings will reach the finals when their time comes. Pakistani influence is not new in the National Spelling Bee. In 2003, Maheen’s older brother Ahmad Rana, placed 12th in the entire nation. These spellers urge other young children to aim for such high competitions. “You can do just as well as anyone else,” encourages Midhat Patel. “You should always strive and never give up, and eventually you will succeed,” advises Sami Hashmi. “If you follow the three D’s you will reach your goal,” informs Maheen. What are those three D’s? “Desire, Discipline, and Dedication” she explains. We can hope that someday we will see a boy or girl of Pakistani descent hoist the coveted trophy above their head in front of millions of viewers nationwide and join the few select individuals who are the spelling champions. (Picture by Fahim Hashmi)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.