Liam Lustberg, Vermont’s top speller, will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee.


A Journey of a Thousand Words: Lustberg Spells His Way to Nationals

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Thursday May 01, 2014

He spelled “really easy ones,” he said, like “ambulance,” and difficult ones, like “graupel,” which means snow pellets. In the 26th round of the Individual Scripps Spelling Championship held at St. Michael’s College in March. Liam Lustberg, an eighth grader at the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, out-spelled 41 other students from around the state. He clinched the win after spelling “pogrom,” an organized massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly the Jews. When I asked him to share other words he spelled in the competition, ironically he mentioned “Anschluss,” which I had to ask him to spell for me. Of German origin, Anschluss means union, specifically the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938. Perhaps Liam is interested in more than words.

For now, though, spelling is in Liam’s immediate future. He will represent Vermont in Washington D.C. at the end of May to participate in the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, the nation’s largest and longest running non-profit educational program, whose goal is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabulary, and develop correct English usage. In D.C., Liam will compete with 300 other middle school students from around the nation. After completing 2 written tests, the top 42 will move on to the final round.

You might envision an eighth grade boy playing basketball after school until the sun goes down, riding his bike through his neighborhood, or playing endless video games for hours. So what compelled Liam to participate in Vermont’s spelling bee? After learning about the spelling team through school announcements last year, Liam thought it sounded fun, and figured, “‘why not give it a try.’”

What was Liam’s winning strategy? He spent a year studying a list of one thousand words. He spelled them out loud, every single evening. His mother quizzed him, and if Liam misspelled a word, it went back into the list, until he spelled all of them correctly. Liam won the spelling bee, and took home the copperleaf-filigreed tablet, because he persisted. 

Surely, everyone has a favorite word. For Holden Caulfield, In Catcher in the Rye, it’s “Phony” – he says it more than 40 times in the novel. Liam’s favorite word is “kerfuffle,” a noun that sounds exactly like what it means: a fuss or disturbance. Liam hopes to participate in future spelling bees. “Of course, I was pretty scared at the beginning,” he said, when describing what it was like to first stand on stage in front of an audience of nearly one hundred. “But once I got into it, I was okay.” Liam’s advice for other students who want to compete in spelling bees, but are understandably anxious: “Just do it.” 
And remember: A journey of a thousand words begins with one syllable.

SOURCE: Melissa Cronin, Contributor