Alex Wade, a fifth grader at Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School in Reno, recently returned from the national competition in Washington, D.C., on May 20 and 21. As the youngest competitor in a field of 55 students in the fifth through eighth grades, Alex placed 14th and 20th, respectively.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking, actually,” Alex said of the competition. “It was okay, in retrospect. I made it to the preliminary round and missed two questions, although a lot of people did that. Some of the questions were very difficult, but the final rounds were sort of easy.”
As the winner of the Nevada competition, Alex and his teacher earned a free trip to the national competition in Washington, D.C., as well as $100 and a world globe.
To compete at the national level, the 55 students outwitted nearly 5 million students from across the country. The top 10 finalists competed for the top prize on a nationally televised TV show moderated by “Jeopardy!” game show host Alex Trebek, which Alex and his family watched live from the studio. His entire family came to support him, including his parents, brother, sister and grandmother from Nebraska – and they enjoyed visiting the nation’s capitol.
“We visited both the air and space museum and got to see the National Museum of Natural History,” Alex said.
They also visited an American Indian museum where he tasted some native cuisine.
“It was the first time I ever tried buffalo meat,” Alex said.
Alex had his first taste of adventure when he began to discover the immensity and diversity of the world beyond Reno.
“When I was little, I was reading a book about Ecuador and realized I didn’t know much about the country and the people who lived there,” Alex said. “I decided I wanted to learn more about the other people who live all over the world.”
His interest was captivated by geography from a very young age.
“When I was 5 years old, I began to learn the national capitals,” Alex said. “When I was 6, I learned some of the country’s secondary features and more about their geographic location. I thought it would be nice if I could learn about the lives of these people.”
His skills extend well beyond geography.
“My real interest is linguistics, the study of languages,” Alex said. “Languages reflect ethnic groups and I can learn more about the people as well.”
The fifth grader knows “a tiny bit” of the Japanese language, some Spanish, some French, and Chinese, including the dialects of Shanghainese and the more common Mandarin Chinese. Alex’s mother, Charlene, and her parents are of Chinese decent, he said.
Alex also enjoys reading and visiting “Google Earth” online. According to the national competition’s press materials, Alex wants to “visit the Maldives and Tuvalu islands before they are submerged by global warming. The best place he has been is Alaska, where he dog-sledded.”
Alex enjoys learning about several other subjects that could be considered advanced for his age.
“My other interests are chemistry - don’t ask, I don’t know,” Alex laughed. “I also enjoy history. I can share my interest of geography with a few other people in my class, but not really as much about chemistry because it is an advanced subject, and not linguistics because it is really obscure. If you do a Google search on “linguistics,” you only get a million entries; whereas if you do a Google search on “Harry Potter,” you would come up with many millions of entries.”