Bee Witched!

updated 06/07/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NAME: Wendy Guey Lai, 26, Cambridge, Mass.

JOB: Math teacher

WINNING YEAR: 1996

WORD: Vivisepulture (n. The act or process of burying alive)

A FAMILY'S DREAM: My parents were Chinese immigrants who came here speaking broken English. For their daughter to win this was noteworthy. The day after I won, I remember we went to a Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C.; the owner gave us 10 percent off!

NAME: Kavya Shivashankar, 14, Olathe, Kans.

JOB: High school freshman

WINNING YEAR: 2009

WORD: Laodicean (adj. Lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics)

SPELLING GENES: The moment I heard the word, I recognized it, and I knew this was it. When I lifted that trophy, it was surreal. This year my 8-year-old sister Vanya is representing Kansas and is the youngest one in the bee. I'm so proud.

NAME: Irving Belz, 72, Houston

JOB: Psychiatrist

WINNING YEAR: 1951

WORD: Insouciant (adj. Exhibiting or characterized by freedom from concern or care)

ADVICE TO YOUNG SPELLERS: Read a lot-and learn classical Greek and Latin.

NAME: Stephanie Petit, 36, San Francisco

JOB: Lawyer

WINNING YEAR: 1987

WORD: Staphylococci (n. pl. Any bacterium of a genus of gram-positive eubacteria)

LASTING MEMORY: President Reagan told my mom, "I hope your daughter doesn't ask me to spell anything."

NAME: John Paola, 47, Annapolis, Md.

JOB: Veterinarian

WINNING YEAR: 1977

WORD: Cambist (n. One who deals in bills of exchange)

HELP FROM ABOVE?: I went to Catholic school, so I had a little card with a prayer on it. I held it the whole time.

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