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“Genial” isn’t the word.

February 16, 2009, 12:13 pm

Here’s a presidents’ day post: I took this photo of President Reagan, right around the time he was making fun of me.

The final round of that year’s Bee came down to Eric Rauchway, thirteen, from St. Petersburg, Florida, and Blake Giddens, thirteen, from Alamogordo, New Mexico…. After Eric spelled ratatouille with a final i, Blake added the proper e then took a guess—a correct one—on his final word, Purim, to become champion.

Blake and Eric and a few finalists were invited to meet the president in the White House Rose Garden, though it was the oddest presidential congratulation in Bee history. One of President Reagan’s goals (one that he never achieved) was to eliminate the federal department of education. Reporters at the Rose Garden event asked him if he still hoped to do this…. President Reagan never hesitated. “There’s too much Federal Government in education,” he replied.

However, lest the afternoon devolve into political infighting, he displayed his characteristically genial persona, offering his compliments to the Bee finalists, adding, “that’s compliment with ‘i,’ not complement with an ‘e.’”

James Maguire, American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds (Rodale Books, 2006), 86.

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