Remarks by Ambassador Robert P. Jackson at the Final Day of Spelling Bee Camp

Ambassador Jackson delivering his speech


Dear spellers, good morning!

I bring you greetings from the American Embassy and I am delighted to join my colleagues to support this wonderful event.  We have some good connection to your event and to the Spelling Bee tradition.  I note that our Embassy’s Cultural Attaché, Sarah Shabbir, was a Spelling Bee regional state participant as a youngster in Indiana.  And our Regional Educational Advising Counselor (REAC), Nancy Keteku, will serve again as the “official pronouncer” for the finals here in Ghana.

I know you are wrapping up an action-packed week together.  And I know you are feeling excited–and possibly a bit anxious–about the final competition tomorrow.

I’m going to ask you to put all that excitement and anxiety aside for a moment.  I want you to close your eyes briefly and reflect.  Really, I want you to close your eyes, sit back, and think about what I’m going to tell you.  And keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them!

Can you believe you’re here right now?  Here among the 200 best spellers in the whole country?  Could you have imagined being here when you stood up to spell your first word at your school competition?  Could you have imagined this during the countless hours you spent studying new words?  Could you have imagined this even as your family waved good-bye to you?

Okay, you may open your eyes now.

Look around.  You really are here.  All of you are here together.

You’ve made new friends.  You’ve learned new study methods.  And you’ve memorized so many new words!  I hope the past week together has made you feel certain that, indeed, you do belong here — here with other young people who love to learn and who love to read.  I hope you will share this love of learning in your home, at your school, and in your community

I hope this spelling bee is a launch pad for your dreams to take shape.  You may have hopes of becoming a doctor, a teacher, a writer, a diplomat, or something else entirely.  Whatever your dream is, I am here to tell you that you will face obstacles, but you must be resilient.  That is a very important word.  R-E-S-I-L-I-E-N-T.  Resilient.

Being resilient means that you will not give up easily.

The inventors of the first powered airplane did not give up easily.  Their names were Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright, better known as the Wright Brothers.  In the early 1900s, they built machine after machine that failed to fly.  Each time they learned from their mistakes and improved on the last model.  Finally, they managed to build a model that could properly be called a “flying machine.”  They had invented the first powered airplane.  I think we’re all very glad they didn’t give up the first time.  Or the second time.  Or the third, fourth, or fifth!  In the end, the Wright Brothers succeeded because they were resilient.

I am proud to say that I did not give up easily when I faced obstacles in my own life.  When I was in the 8th Grade, I read a book entitled The Ugly American, and it inspired me to become a diplomat.  In my final year of university, I took the Foreign Service Exam.  I passed the written portion, but I failed the orals.  I did not give up though.  Two years later, I took the exams again and embarked on an amazing career in diplomacy almost exactly 35 years ago.

And I can give many other examples showing that resilience is a key ingredient of success.

And be aware that your success will inspire others — in your family, or your town, your school or your village.  When astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the material used in a wing of their 1903 flying machine.  One great first inspired another great first.

I wish you the very best in the final competition tomorrow.  Regardless of the result, you will have wonderful stories to share with your family and friends when you return home.  Whether you come from a big city or a small village, from the coast or from the savannah, I know that you will find a way to keep reading, keep learning, and keep dreaming.

Good luck, spellers!