A San Ramon middle school student is preparing this month for what could be the culmination of an illustrious career as an award-winning spelling bee champion as he gears up for the end of academic term and begins considering what his high school and college years might bring.
Dhruv Subramanian, a seventh grade student at Windemere Ranch Middle School, is heading across the country at the end of May to represent the city, county and state at the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington D.C.
"I am so proud of Dhruv's accomplishment in the Spelling Bee," Windemere Ranch principal Sharon Baltazar said. "At Windemere Ranch, our students thrive as learners. They are exemplary both in and out of the classroom in all they do, and Dhruv has exemplified this at an incredible level and a true Falcon."
While Subramanian's self-described encyclopedic knowledge of the English language and its rules, origins and applications -- as well as his success in spelling bee competitions and chance to win at the national level -- are points of pride for his school, district and county, the origins of all of these can be traced back to his earliest experiences with language.
His father, Satheesh Subramanian, said that competing and succeeding at spelling bees came naturally early on, in the throes of an early childhood spent marveling over encyclopedias and learning new words and information from any and all available sources.
"He was actually just curious about learning new things and always had fun being quizzed on it," Satheesh Subramanian said. "This was just a natural extension because as he started getting into the circuit it became apparent that there were other kids that were like him that were interested in learning the roots and the hist of every word."
Dhruv Subramanian first competed in the North South Foundation Junior Spelling Bee as a kindergartener, and was one of only two students in his grade to compete in that competition nationally. He went on to compete again throughout elementary school, scoring 21st place nationally in first grade, 11th place in second grade, then first place in third grade.
"I like looking at weird and interesting letter combinations of words, and I find them in my everyday life," Subramanian said. "For example in the year that I won the bee in third grade, that year I got the word 'humectant'. I had seen that in one of my soap bottle covers and I remembered it from there."
This year, Subramanian came in third place at the Bay Area Scripps Regional Spelling Bee, and is heading to Stockton ahead of the national competition to represent Contra Costa County at the California State Junior High Spelling Bee on May 13.
"It is an honor for spellers to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee and to represent this county at the state competition," said Lynn Mackey, Contra Costa County superintendent of schools in an April 25 announcement. "I also want to thank the Rotary Club of San Ramon Valley for stepping up to sponsor this important academic competition and giving this county's students a pathway to shine on the brightest stage."
Despite years of experience on the spelling bee circuit, Subramanian said that his pending trip for the national Scripps competition was the pinnacle of his competitive spelling career thus far.
"It's definitely a thrill ride for anyone who wants to take part in it, for anyone that's competed in the National Spelling Bee; it seems so surreal," Subramanian said. "It seems surreal in a manner. I feel like the national competition is the height of everything. It comprises all individuals from everywhere around the world."
The Scripps National Spelling Bee was first launched close to a century ago in 1925, with the millions of students who have competed since making it the largest as well as the oldest educational program in the country, according to the Contra Costa County Office of Education in their April 25 announcement.
The winner of the national championship is ineligible to compete in future competitions, which could mean an extra four to five hours of free time per day without his grueling yet engaging practice routines for spelling bee competitions.
"It would feel like I'm on the top of the world of spelling; it's like I can't go any higher," Subramanian said.
However, he emphasized that no matter how much he practices, there is still an element of luck at play in spelling bees, and always a chance of encountering a word he doesn't know, as well as being out-spelled by fellow competitors.
"I have the goal of winning -- it's just that competing with these other competitions, even in the local and regional level, there are two people who are miles better than me I would say," Subramanian said.
While spelling bee competitions have given Subramanian an outlet to exercise his talents and interests, as well as meeting like minded young people, he said that retiring from the circuit would be a relief. He said he plans to stop competing if or when he makes it to the top five nationally at the Scripps bee, or potentially the top 10.
Regardless, Subramanian is already looking ahead to life past the competition, including the pursuit of a career in neurosurgery, and -- more urgently -- his impending graduation from middle school next year.
"I'm nearing that point in my life, so it's like my mind is kind of muddled up with all this high school stuff, and I'm thinking what do I need to do to major in neuroscience in college," Subramanian said. "First I need to get through that roadblock of high school ... I feel like I have that knowledge acquired, but I really need the street smarts to get through high school and into college."
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