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Georgian among three Indian-American winners of Geography Bee

July 2006
Georgian among three Indian-American winners of Geography Bee

To bee or not to bee? The answer, as far as Indian-American youngsters are concerned, seems to be a resounding "to bee." Which is not surprising, given the community's enthusiasm for this annual American ritual. Desi kids make it to the finals in Washington D.C. every year and they often end up taking one or more of the top spots. Besides the winner and the two runners-up at the 2005 National Spelling Bee, the student who came in third was an Indian-American. And at the National Geographic Bee this year, Indian-Americans made another clean sweep of the first three places. Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the top award includes lifetime membership and a scholarship of $25,000. It went to Bonny Jain, a 12-year-old from Illinois, after he correctly named the mountains that extend across much of Wales from the Irish Sea to the British Channel. Of the 27 questions Bonny was asked, he got all except one right. Neeraj Sirdeshmukh, a 14-year-old resident of New Hampshire, became the runner-up ($15,000), while 13-year-old Yeshwanth Kandimalla, who attends Simpson Middle School in Marietta, Georgia, bagged the third prize ($10,000). Neeraj was asked to name the country that's known for its geothermal springs near Rotorua. And Yeshwanth properly identified the Australian island territory in the Indian Ocean that was named for the day it was seen in 1643. The "geography one is more valuable and enriching" than the more popular spelling bee, according to journalist Charles Passey, whose son is a former geography bee participant. "The spelling bee contestants rely on memorization or knowledge of etymology," he writes in an op-ed piece. "The geography bee asks competitors to connect many more dots through a broad understanding of political, cultural and environmental factors." Many would agree with him. As per a recent National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs survey, 60 percent of Americans between and the ages of 18 and 24 couldn't find Iraq on a map and 50 percent had trouble locating New York State.

So, what were the answers that earned the winners $25K, $15K and $10K respectively? Here they are: "Cambrian" (Bonny), "New Zealand" (Neeraj), and "Christmas Island" (Yeshwanth).

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