Tween Talk with Eugenia: As long as it takes…


I should have noticed her by the time she was up there doing her own thing and having all of us hold our breath in suspense…but I hadn’t noticed her.  I’ll blame it on COVID-19; it erased all senses of normalcy and came with its own.

But there she stood, or hunched over rather, with her eyes fixated on a screen none of us could see, and spewing out letters as though she was chomping through a piping-hot bagel, hitting on a buzzer after every such scenario.

Fourteen-year-old Harini Logan of San Antonio, Texas in the US has previously competed in the 2018 (tied for 323rd place), 2019 (tied for 30th place) and 2021 (tied for 31st place) editions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And in all those 3 years, Ghana participated too, so why didn’t I notice her consistency in participating and astronomical jump in her spelling performance between 2019 and 2021! Anyway, I maintain COVID-19 is to blame.

I first noticed Harini Logan when during the finals of this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland, USA, she got belled out because she had given the wrong meaning of a word. The whole auditorium chorused: “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww”, as though on cue. I quickly flipped through the Spellers brochure to find out more about her and that’s when I noticed Harini’s temerity! I quicky added her to my other favourite to win but wait, she had just been belled out.

She is out of the competition, and as she is in the 8th grade she will not be able to return to the competition, per the rules.  Then Head Judge Mary Brooks announced that Harini would be reinstated because the answer she had given wasn’t wrong! Harini stayed calm and gracious throughout – the elimination and reinstatement. Life lesson spotted.

She went through a few more rounds, and the competition was obviously tying, so to speak. There was just Harini Logan and Vikram Raju remaining, out of the 234 Spellers who began the competition; the two kept going toe-to-toe ending in a draw. The officials decided to engage the tie-breaker Spell-Off rule, which was a first, since it was added in 2021.

The two had 90 seconds each to correctly spell as many words as possible. Raju went first and spelt in a similar fashion as I described Harini had done initially. At the end of it, Harini emerged winner by spelling 22 out of 25 words correctly while Raju spelt 12 correctly. As the confetti rained down on her, we could see her wiping away her tears…of joy, one would say. But it must also be tears of relief of vindicating oneself after years of practice and innumerable hours of studying.

We all were genuinely happy for her as the applause in the room lingered on. She would immediately compose herself and smile at us all, raise that heavy-looking ceramic cup of a trophy. There was such an admirable sense of maturity about her; her composure in her first interview exposed so much of this.

As we made our way back to our hotel room, I pondered over her win. She didn’t just win…it took years of hard work. By age six, her mother had spotted her love for reading and started nurturing it…How?  Feeding her love for reading with rich novels and exposing her to other sports and supporting her journey into the Bee four years running.

Harini plays the piano and the recorder, and is teaching herself how to play the ukulele, which is a type of Hawaiian guitar. She is also planning to publish her first book before graduating from high school! How’s that for focus?!

When asked what advice she has for those pursuing their passions, she had this to say – “This is actually my fourth time at the Bee, and I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped like last year, and I decided to never give up, and I think that did really pay off. So just never give up, no matter the setbacks, and those setbacks you’re experiencing really do build you up and help you become a stronger and better person.”

If that doesn’t inspire you, I am not sure what will! Congratulations again Harini Logan!! You truly deserve the win!

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