Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champion Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth thought things were finally settling down after the hoopla of winning the nail-biting final in May.
But last Monday, Sujoe, 13, got the greatest thrill of victory: he and co-winner Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, N.Y., and their families visited President Barack Obama in the White House.
“It was definitely spectacular,” gushed Sujoe. “The president was really interested in the spelling bee. The president even opened the door for us.”
Sujoe had not been expecting such a treat when E.W. Scripps Co. officials, sponsors of the bee, recently contacted his family about a White House visit.
“I was kind of getting ready for everything to go back to peace and normal,” said Sujoe, who had just started the school year at Fort Worth’s Bethesda Christian School.
Instead, the best part of winning the bee turned out not to be the swirl of fame from being on the national morning talk shows, or on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, but on touring the White House and talking to the president for 10 minutes inside the Oval Office.
“We really didn’t know what we were going to talk about,” said Sujoe. “The president drove the conversation.”
And Obama, who followed the bee and tweeted congratulations to the winners, wanted to know what words they missed.
Sujoe and Hathwar each missed a word in the final round before each then correctly spelled the words that resulted in their being declared co-champions, the first tie since 1962. Each received the $30,000 winner’s prize and a championship trophy.
Hathwar misspelled “corpsbruder,” which means close companion, and Sujoe stumbled on “antigropelos,” which are waterproof leggings.
“The president asked us the words we missed and actually spelled them for us,” said Sujoe.
So, how did Obama do?
“The president did pretty good,” said Sujoe. “I was pretty amazed. He only missed a few letters.”
Obama gave each speller a bag with the presidential seal with some mementos, including a copy of the Constitution and some boxed M&Ms.
The Oval Office spelling audience included Sujoe’s parents, Sujoe Bose and Angel Sujoe; his eight-year-old sister, Hephzibah Sujoe; Hathwar’s family; and several Scripps’ officials.
Sujoe said he wants to be a computer engineer like his father who works at Sabre, Inc., of Southlake, Texas, a travel technology company.
The young winner said that he cannot believe how excited people still get over his spelling championship last spring.
“Everyone’s still congratulating me and all,” he said. “I thought everything would go back to normal by now. But not yet.”
And as much as Sujoe got comfortable being in the public eye, nothing compared with meeting the president.
“It was the best thing that’s ever happened,” he said.