Spelling Bee’s shining star a hero to geeks

Nupur Lala, 14, from Tampa, Fla. reacts upon winning the 72nd annual National Spelling Bee in 1999, – AP photos
Spelling Bee’s shining star a hero to geeks
Of the 85 kids who have won the National Spelling Bee, only one became an instant movie star. She'll always be the 14-year-old girl from Tampa, Fla., with the glasses and dark shoulder-length hair, her arms raised while leaping for joy.

But that was a half-life ago for Nupur Lala. Like all bee winners, she's since had to deal with the perks, drawbacks and stereotypes that come with the title. That's been magnified because the year she won the bee, movie makers were shooting a documentary about the competition. The Oscar-nominated documentary was released in 2002.

The bee's popularity has skyrocketed, in part because of Lala and the other spellers featured in the documentary "Spellbound," a film that made smart people cool long before "The Big Bang Theory."

She became a role model for those who realized it's OK to be nerdy. She became a trend-setter, starting a run in which 10 of 14 national bee winners have been Indian-American, including the last five.

Today, she's 28 and finishing up a master's degree in cancer biology with plans to enroll in the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, having changed course from a career plan that had her researching memory and the brain for three years at MIT. She now aspires to be a physician scientist.

"My intellectual inspirations are so meandering. I blame that on the Spelling Bee sometimes," Lala said with a laugh. "There are so many interesting things in the dictionary to study."

Then there's another set of emotions she feels every year when her name is mentioned by the Indian-Americans youngsters who now dominate the national bee. All of the recent winners, to some degree, have cited Lala as an inspiration.

"People always thought of me as this nerdy, excitable, just-an-awkward kid. Now they can see me as somebody beyond that, I hope."

Critical thinking challenge: Why is Nupur more famous than other spelling bee winners? Is this fair?


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I don't think its going to be a good movie becuase she is kind of a nerd.............. but it is cool to be a movie star becuase you won a spelling bee.

It's wonderful that this girl got the chance to win the spelling bee and be a movie star in the documentary about the spelling bee. She is obviously a great motivational person for other "geeks".

She is because she was a good actress so she got a good part on a tv show that became quite popular! It is fair because she pursued her dreams!

There are many reasons why she has more fame then the other spelling bee winners. She make it OK to be nerdy. There were shooting a documentary about its cool to be a nerd. She gets to be in the documentary and none of the other winners get to be in it. Those are my reasons why she is more famous then the other spellers.

That's really amazing she did that after and during the spelling bee!!!!! A lot of people are gonna think and know she's amazing, and look up to her!!

Nupur Lala was one of the first people to show everyone that is was ok to be nerdy. She was fourteen when she won the National Spelling Bee, but became an instant movie star with the release of spelling movies right after she won. Children today even cite her as an inspiration to enter spelling bees. Today she is twenty eight and planning on going to the University of Texas Medical School in Houston after attending MIT. Nupur Lala will continue to serve as an inspiration to children for generations.
This is great to hear. Many children are afraid of being stereotyped as a nerd and do not apply themselves as much as they could. It is wonderful to see Nupur acting as an inspiration. I hope more kids are inspired to apply themselves and succeed.

She is famous because they madea movie because of her and I think it is fair because its not like she asked for them to make a movie about her.

She is more famous than the other past winners of the Spelling Bee because she was different, and that's a good thing. I believe this is fair because she was being herself, and this was basically God's way for a reward for being herself and not being a copy of somebody else. I hope that other people realize too that she is an inspiration because she is different and she was being herself.

Nupur Lala was one of the first people to show everyone that is was ok to be nerdy. She was fourteen when she won the National Spelling Bee, but became an instant movie star with the release of spelling movies right after she won. Children today even cite her as an inspiration to enter spelling bees. Today she is twenty eight and planning on going to the University of Texas Medical School in Houston after attending MIT. Nupur Lala will continue to serve as an inspiration to children for generations.
This is great to hear. Many children are afraid of being stereotyped as a nerd and do not apply themselves as much as they could. It is wonderful to see Nupur acting as an inspiration. I hope more kids are inspired to apply themselves and succeed.

She is more famous because she was kind of different for the others. It is a mixture of fairness and unfairness, because most of the kids who enter the spelling bee are alike.