National Harbor, Md. - On Tuesday night, spellers at the Scripps National Spelling Bee got a big surprise.
281 young wordsmiths and their family members filled the Maryland Ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center for a seemingly routine assembly.
After sitting patiently for about 45 minutes, absorbing information about what to expect during the final two days of the bee, restless spellers got a wake-up call worth waiting for.
Senior Director of U.S. Education for Microsoft Lydia Smyers was discussing Microsoft’s involvement in the bee, and the important role the bee plays in developing our future workforce.
“We see our future in you,” Smyers told spellers.
Smyers then introduced a video demonstrating a device for learning, creating and collaborating: The Microsoft Surface.
Communications and Public Relations Manager Chris Kemper told the kids they were in for a surprise.
“This has never been done in the history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee!” Kemper exclaimed as he invited spellers to come forward and take a gift bag.
“Do not look in the bag, do not shake the bag, do not open the bag, and for Pete’s sake do not taste the bag,” Kemper instructed.
All 281 spellers gathered onstage with their bags to steady applause.
In what can only be described as in an Oprah-style fashion, after an audience countdown from five, each speller ripped through layers of tissue and wrapping paper to reveal a Microsoft Surface RT tablet.
The excitement in the room was palpable as Pharrell’s “Happy” boomed from the speakers.
Parents and kids alike were overjoyed.
“I can’t even believe it, I never even thought I would have my own Surface tablet!” said Ankita Vadiala, a 12-year-old 7th grader from Manassas, Virginia, with a squeal.
A father approached Smyers and thanked her and the bee for making everyone feel like a winner.
13-year-old 7th grader Kush Sharma from Kansas City, Missouri, though grateful, already has a Microsoft Surface tablet and was excited for another one.
“Even though I already have one, this is so cool!” Sharma said, jumping up and down. “I don’t even have 64 gigs, and it has 64 gigs!”
Included in the gift bag: a Microsoft Surface RT tablet equipped with Microsoft’s Spelling Bees app, a custom tablet sleeve, a custom tablet skin designed to look like the Bee Week guide, Microsoft Office software, a keyboard, a built-in kickstand, a $25 Skype gift card and more.
What brought about this tablet boon for the kids?
Microsoft is the official technology champion of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee -- a first for the bee.
This means the largest and longest-running educational program in the country joined forces with the world’s largest software company.
“Microsoft is an organization much like the Bee, an organization with a long history of supporting educators and educational programming,” said Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in a Microsoft in Education guest blog post.
“By joining forces with Microsoft, we’re able to further support digital literacy in education, expand the impact of education and accelerate the growth potential for every student, educator and school.”
The Scripps National Spelling Bee started in 1925 with nine contestants. Today, it is estimated that more than 11 million students participate each year, and this year the field has been whittled down to 281 spellers that will compete at the national level.
“Spelling is a vital component for communicating, a skill highly valued in the best jobs of today and in the future,” Margo Day, vice president of U.S. Education, Microsoft, said in a statement.
“Microsoft has long been committed to ensuring all students have access to innovative and immersive technology that both inspires and improves their education experience, so collaborating with the 87-year legacy of the Scripps National Spelling Bee as the technology champion is an honor for us.”
What does all of this mean for spellers? Access to innovative and immersive technology.
In addition to the aforementioned gift bag, the collaboration with Microsoft includes a Windows 8 spelling app for teachers and students, Bing for Schools weekly lesson plans focused on spelling, spelling-related surprises for certain queries using Bing for Schools and a Bing for Schools Word of the Day available on the Scripps National Spelling Bee Facebook page.
Though this is its first year of collaboration with the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Microsoft has a long history of supporting educational programs. Since 2003, Microsoft has partnered with educators to impact more than 207 million students in 119 countries.
The 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee takes place on May 27, 28 and 29 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
Preliminary rounds will air on ESPN3 at 8 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday. The semifinals will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Thursday at 10 a.m., and the championship finals will be broadcast live on ESPN on Thursday at 8 p.m.