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Jackson, Gianna / Spelling Free / 1

Jourdan dragged her mother into the auditorium, and sprinted towards the stage to join
the second and third graders disappearing behind large, velvet curtains; her beaded ponytail
rattling as she moved. Backstage everyone was separated into two lines, one for boys, and one
for girls.
“For those of you who competed last year in the spelling bee, you remember the rules,
right? Girl, boy, girl, boy—hey!” Principal Hawk looked over the edges of her glasses at twosecond graders fighting in the boys’ line.
The two boys stopped and Principal Hawk continued, “For those of you who are here for
the first time, welcome.” She adjusted her glasses and smiled as she stepped out onto the stage.
The beads in Jourdan’s ponytail rhythmically rattled, as the excitement bubbled out of her.
“I’m nervous,” said Cece, Jourdan’s cubby buddy. The musical ponytail fell silent.
“Don’t be nervous, Cece you practiced,” Jourdan said confidently trying to cheer up her
friend who did not make it past the first round last year.
“Practice won’t matter if you get stage fright,” Hannah said. Cece’s face dropped and
Jourdan’s face puffed up like an angry puffer-fish. What a pain. Jourdan thought, remembering
how she lost the spelling bee the previous year.
Jourdan and Hannah were the last two girl contestants, and as a rule, the school requires
two winners be selected from the annual spelling bee, a girl, and a boy. In the last round, Jourdan
missed a ‘s’ in the word “possession” and Hannah received a gold medal by default.
Jourdan’s mother had explained by default meant that because she was unsuccessful at
spelling her word correctly, Hannah was automatically selected to be the winner. And ever since,
Hannah-miss-not-really-knows-it-all did her best to remind Jourdan, and everyone else that she

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lost. By default, that is the only reason she won. It doesn’t make her better or smarter than me.
Jourdan chanted in her head. I won’t mess up this time…I am not afraid. I practiced. She
thought, trying to block out Hannah’s voice.
“My brother told me that stage fright is worse than not practicing, because your body
shakes, and you get dizzy…” Hannah continued. A few kids exchanged some worried words.
“And your mind goes completely blank. He says, you can’t even remember your own
name!”
“I don’t believe you,” Jourdan replied. “A lot of us have done this before and we’ve
practiced,” Jourdan said, this time trying to convince herself.
“Yeah, but if you misspelled a word last time, my brother says it can make you worry
about doing it again this time.” Hannah stated. The idea of getting stage fright this time around
never once crossed Jourdan’s mind, and before she could blink, she was being called to the stage.
The lights were brighter and hotter than she remembered as she approached the
microphone. Jourdan lowered her head to avoid the beam of the spotlight and focused on the
edges of the nametag that hung around her neck. Principal Hawk gave her a word, but Jourdan
did not hear it.
She couldn’t hear anything but the sound of her heart pounding like a conga drum in her
chest. For Jourdan, being on stage this time felt like she had just jumped off of a roundabout at
the playground that was spinning too fast, and now she was dizzy. On top of that, Jourdan
suddenly realized that her mind had gone blank. Oh no, what do I do now? Everyone is watching
me. Jourdan panicked. I can’t be eliminated in the first round. Hannah would never let me forget
this one for sure. Jourdan thought. She shut her eyes tight and tried to make something, anything,
pop into her head until finally—by default. Her mental mantra had returned and just in time. By

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default, it was by default…she did not beat me. I practiced. Jourdan took a deep breath, asked for
her word again, and brought a shaky hand up to the microphone.
“Immortality…” Jourdan said. “…I-M-M-O-R-T-A-L-I-T-Y...immortality.” Principal
Hawk paused for a moment and Jourdan held her breath.
“That is correct.” The audience applauded and Jourdan smiled brightly as she exited the
stage. “I did it. I did it. I did it!” She chanted and skipped down the steps to the backstage
waiting area. She felt both excited for the next round and relieved to finally be off the stage.
Jourdan looked back and saw her art partner, Billy, standing at the microphone. Her heart
was still racing, and her legs felt like Jell-O when she sat down next to Cece. When Billy
misspelled the word he was given, Jourdan became sad and remembered how frighten she was
up on the stage.
“I never realized how much pressure the spelling bee could be until today,” She said
sitting back in her chair. Cece nodded, still looking at the stage and its current contestant.
“Hannah, your word is worthwhile,” Principal Hawk said. Cece turned to face Jourdan.
“Hey, at least this is the last time we have to be in a spelling bee,” Cece said with a smile.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Jourdan said excited, remembering that fourth graders did not have
required spelling bee contests. Fourth graders are spelling bee free, Jourdan thought missing the
moment Principal Hawk said to Hannah, “I’m sorry, but that is incorrect.”