In the first grade, Nicholas D’Sa told his teacher that one of his goals in life was to become a good speller.
He’s not sure exactly why that was the first thought when other students in his class offered replies such as excelling at sports, flying airplanes, being firefighters, or any of the more traditional answers 6-year-olds tend to give.
But Nicholas knew learning to spell words would be one of his childhood passions. Years later, that enthusiasm brought him to the cusp of of winning the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making it to the final rounds in an event broadcast on ESPN to millions of viewers each year.
Nicholas, Orange County’s Spelling Bee Champion, made it to the 12th round of the national finals, eliminated just before the competition’s first ever eight-way tie for first. He placed higher than any other Orange County student in the history of the National Bee.
More than a month after the exhilarating competition at the Bee held in Washington, D.C., the Tustin resident said he would not change a thing about his experience.
“I really enjoyed the whole thing,” Nicholas said. “It was great to be on television. I learned how not to be nervous when on stage in front of a large group of people.”
Nicholas said one of his favorite parts about the competition was meeting the other competitors. During commercial breaks between rounds, the group of 15 finalists would chat about everything from the newest movies they’ve seen and books they’ve read to what their summer travel plans were.
“We tried not to talk about the Bee itself. It was more about keeping everything light. I think it helped with everyone’s nerves,” Nicholas said.
After he has eliminated, tripped up by the word “jalap,” Nicholas remained in the auditorium to watch the remainder of the contest.
“I wanted to see how many of the remaining words I could spell, but I also wanted to see who ended up winning,” he said. “I didn’t have any favorites. I think I just wanted everyone to do well.”
The students later exchanged email addresses, phone numbers and social media handles to keep in touch, Nicholas said.
Nicholas will start ninth grade this fall at Mater Dei High School. In the meantime, he’s spending his summer taking it somewhat easy. His main summer activities are tennis lessons.
Nicholas said he’s still undecided about what he wants to be when he grows up. He said he’s leaning to something relating to science, technology, engineering or math, or STEM. His experience in spelling bees will help him regardless of what career he chooses.
Public speaking, problem-solving and deductive reasoning are all skills he’s honed during years of spelling bee competitions.
“Spelling bees were a lot of fun for me, but now it’s time to see what comes next,” he said.