Spelling Bee Champion: Brett Sokol '19

Last night, students competed against each other in a Spelling Bee. The two rows of participants sat on the stage, while the panel of judges and the audience members all watched in anticipation. Everyone enjoyed various kinds and flavors of ice cream and hot chocolate as each participant carefully picked out their sequence of letters. The Spelling Bee lasted a little under an hour as people spelled words ranging in difficulty, like "insulin", "plebeian", and "boysenberry". We came to the final stretch with the last two standing participants: Brett Sokol '19 and Samuel Feldman '17. Passing the finish line with the word "entrepreneur", Brett Sokol won the Spelling Bee!

After his victory, I was able to ask him some questions about his newly earned title, and here's what he had to say:

1. Was this your first spelling bee?

“Funny you should ask. I participated in last year's spelling bee at Amherst, and I was actually the very first person to misspell a word. ‘Braggadocio’ was it, which I spelled as "braggadocchio" thinking its orthography would be true to its Italian origins. I really overthought that one.”


2. What inspired you to participate?

“I didn't know of the spelling bee until about an hour before it began. I was having dinner with friends and they suggested that I try my hand at it (they didn't know about the debacle last year and I certainly didn't mention it to them.) I agreed for want of anything better to do that night.”


3. How did spelling on the stage feel different from spelling elsewhere?

“There is nothing at stake with misspelling words when writing papers and etc...No one needs to see how much I rely on autocorrect when I'm in B level Frost. In the bee I'm on stage and people are watching. I have a reputation to maintain.”

4. What was the most challenging word for you?

“Pirouette. Like bragadoccio, I was torn between staying true to the conventions of its original language (French) and Anglicizing it, which would have entailed reducing the -ette ending to et.”

5. Were there any words that you actually didn’t know and felt lucky it wasn’t your turn?

“Only one: ‘gneiss’. I would not have gotten that even with several tries.”

6. What are your upcoming academic plans?

“I created an interdisciplinary major in comparative literature in collaboration with the French, Spanish and Russian departments. Apart from my courses in literature, I will taking courses in theatre and music theory. I have been heavily involved in theatre this year, having performed in Brecht's ‘Antigone’, and next semester I will be in my friend Lauren Carter's senior thesis ‘Big Love’. I strongly encourage you to go see that show.”


7. As a Comparative Literature major, how prepared did you feel when you were up there?

“Words, whether read, or written, or spoken are my primary occupation. In order for one to maintain their enthusiasm (or sanity) while studying literature, it is necessary to develop a fascination for, well, words. Words surround me nearly every waking moment of my life. They are the primary mode in which I understand and appreciate the world. Without them my feelings and ideas are meaningless. So yes, I would say it helps.”


8.What was the prize?



9. Do you have a favorite word?

“My favorite word is the Russian word for inspiration, which is вдохновенье (transliterated as vdokhnovyen'e) The word has an almost tactile quality rarely found in the English language.”

10. Would you compete again?

“Of course. How else would I defend my title?”