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Spelling bee finalist reflects on competition, looks to future

Spelling bee finalist reflects on competition, looks to future

Ryana Sarcar aced every word spelled aloud on stage, but met elimination through a written test
Spelling bee finalist reflects on competition, looks to future
Ryana Sarcar, a student at Van Antwerp Middle School, talks about competing in the National Spelling Bee in Washington.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

NISKAYUNA -- Ryana Sarcar’s name may not quite rhyme with the famed singer Rihanna’s, but she has carved out her own bit of stardom as a competitor in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Sarcar was humble in describing her accomplishments and ambitions on Tuesday, during an interview at the Van Antwerp Middle School library in Niskayuna. 

“I mean, right now, I hope to maybe get into, I don’t know, an Ivy League school,” she said. “I’ve been looking at Harvard. I think all of them are cool, though.”

The Wisconsin native aced all of the words she was asked to spell on stage, but she was eliminated from the competition as a result of a written test.

"It's (the written test) multiple choice for spelling and vocabulary," Sarcar said. 

Despite just missing a chance to compete in the final round of the Scripps competition, Sarcar said she was enthralled with the overall experience. 

"I thought it was cool that there were kids there from Italy and Ghana -- places like that. I also met someone from Rochester," she said. 

Other highlights included guest speakers -- the editor-in-chief of the Miriam Webster dictionary among them -- along with the RSVBee spellers, an addition to this year's competition where schools unconnected to the competition can send spellers as long as they pay their own way.

"It's great to meet other people who care about spelling as much as you do," Sarcar said. 

The experience of being on the main stage under the lights, however, was more overwhelming than Sarcar had anticipated.

“It’s really scary; you have to keep a cool head,” she said. “But yeah, you just go up there and spell. I’m just really glad to have been able to do that.”

Movies like Akeelah and the Bee inspired Sarcar when she was in middle school, but her ambitions for the national stage go further back.

“I’ve wanted to go [to nationals] since like second grade,” she said, lamenting the fact that the school she went to in India didn’t offer an option to compete in the Scripps competition. “So I tried [in Niskayuna] in sixth and seventh grade, but I didn’t make it.”

So what changed?

“I just kept studying and just didn’t give up on my dream,” she said.

Most of the time, she said, she thoroughly enjoyed studying for the bee, even amid her other schoolwork and preparations for the science bowl, but Sarcar admitted that, on occasion, the preparation got tedious.

Sometimes the definitions of words would get lost in the effort, as she worked to master languages of origin and other tactics or the competition. Sarcar said the most challenging word she faced at the bee was “eumolpique,” of French and Greek origin. The definition escaped her, but she was still able to spell the word correctly off the top of her head.

According to Miriam-Webster, the definition proved to be perhaps more difficult than the spelling: a poetic measure consisting of two unrhymed Alexandrines with alternate masculine and feminine endings.

While boasting an impressive acumen in spelling, Sarcar said her true passion lies in biochemistry, where she hopes to go into research after college.

“It's just really cool to find out how living things function,” she said.

According to teacher Heather Leader, Ryana and a few of her classmates have cemented a less-rigorous, yet quite serious, competition at the end of lunch every day.

“She’s also got this little competitive spirit that you see sometimes,” Leader said of Sarcar. “Like she and two other kids are always competing to see who can be the first up from lunch into the classroom, and this has been going on all year. So it’s fun to see that fun, quirky competitive side come out in her, but that’s also what makes her so successful."

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