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Alex Trebek on the importance of geography

By Ford Cochran

Ten young finalists from among 54 state geographic bee winners competed at the Society’s Washington, D.C. headquarters this morning for $50,000 in college scholarships, a cruise to the Galapagos, lifetime National Geographic membership, and the title of 2010 National Geographic Bee champion. 13-year-old Aadith Moorthy, an 8th-grade student at Palm Harbor Middle School in Florida, won by naming the largest city in northern Haiti, Cap-Hatïen.

Long-time Jeopardy host Alex Trebek hosted the event, as he has since the first National Geographic Bee more than 20 years ago. He opened the contest with some timely observations on the importance of geography:

I love working with bright kids. They’re fun. They’re intelligent. They have a good sense of themselves. They have a great sense of humor. They’re the future leaders of America. So in working with them I feel very confident about our country.

The ten boys you see on stage right now are exactly the same, but with one important difference. These boys recognize how important geography is, not just as something you study in school, but as something that affects us every day in our lives.

That’s important to note, because the world now is so interconnected that if something takes place here, it will have an impact over here, and almost immediately. A volcano erupts in Iceland, disrupting air traffic throughout Europe for many days, costing millions and millions of dollars. An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatens our environment and may well destroy an important part of our fishing industry. A budget crisis in Greece has serious impact on our stock markets here in America.

The world is intertwined, and it’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Right now, the world is about the size of a cellular telephone.

Technology and electronics have changed the way things occur in the world today, but they also have created new opportunities–a new era of discovery and accomplishment. A couple of weeks ago, we had the story of a 15-year-old girl who had just completed a voyage around the world all by herself in a tiny little sailboat. A couple of days ago, a 13-year-old boy made a long-distance telephone call to his mother in California from the top of Mt. Everest.

These are geographic achievements.

That’s the good news. His mother was very proud of course. Unfortunately, the call was collect!

Rhode Island’s Oliver Lucier, 13, placed second, and Idaho’s Karthik Mouli, 12, third.

Other finalists included Pranav Bhandarkar, 13, of Georgia; Stefan Petrović, 12, of Kansas; Abhinav Kurada, 11, of Massachusetts; Anthony Cheng, 11, of Utah; James Stiff, 13, of Virginia; Andrew Braun, 13, of West Virginia; and Vansh Jain, 11, of Wisconsin.

Read more about the National Geographic Bee and test your own geographic savvy with the GeoBee Challenge. Or learn more about the National Geographic Education Foundation, and its efforts to promote geographic literacy among kids and teens.
Photo by Ford Cochran

Ford-Cochran.jpgFord Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild–a digest of Society exploration, research, and events–and the Ocean Now blog. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.

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