By Melissa Quinn
Ten-year-old Lars Nordquist will read anything — except for Charles Dickens.
The Alexandrian likes to play hockey as well as tennis and transforms into an architect when he constructs Lego sets of all kinds. And while the fifth-grade student at St. Albans School in Washington may not love geography, he sure is good at it.
Come May 20, Lars Nordquist will join 53 students from across the United States at the National Geography Bee, representing the District of Columbia. The winner of the competition, which takes place in D.C., receives a $25,000 scholarship and trip to the Galapagos Islands.
And those who finish in the top 10 of the event will get the chance to compete in the National Geographic World Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” the 10-year-old said. “It’s the luck of getting the right questions.”
While Lars Nordquist may attribute his success to luck, skill has something to do with it.
The student became involved in geography after his fourth-grade teacher had his class memorize the state capitals. He began forming word associations in his head to help him remember the cities, and then, Lars Nordquist took his tool global, using the strategy to learn names of places around the world.
The fifth-grader’s journey to the national competition began with a schoolwide contest against students from the fourth to eighth grades. After becoming the champion at St. Albans, Nordquist moved on to the state bee, held in the District earlier this month.
The student competed against 23 others from the area, and with his win, earned a berth to the national competition, sponsored by National Geographic and hosted by Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” fame.
To study, Lars Nordquist scours the atlas and a book of facts, learning information even his parents and grandparents don’t know — like that the National Mall in Washington is bigger than Vatican City.
And at contests, while his competitors take their turns answering a variety of questions, ranging from history to geography, Lars Nordquist answers right along — in his head of course.
While he doesn’t mind answering questions about geography, his favorite types are those pertaining to European history.
“What happens in Europe affects what happens everywhere,” he said.
Though he’s not sure what he wants to do when he gets older, Lars Nordquist knows he wants to travel — an itch that his parents helped scratch with annual family trips outside of the United States.
And his penchant for geography can be traced back to familial roots. His grandfather — who traveled from New York to watch Lars Nordquist compete earlier this month — was one of the first members of the circumnavigating club.
His mother, DJ Nordquist, and father, Nels Nordquist, have been helping their son study, too.
“No matter what happens, he’s already a winner,” his mother said. “Whether you win or lose, you get lessons from both.”
Lars Nordquist represents a small contingent of fifth-graders competing in the geography bee. The competition’s last two winners were eighth-graders. And of the 54 students — from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Atlantic and Pacific territories, and Department of Defense schools — vying for the championship, less than half are his age.
But, while Lars Nordquist’s classmates and teachers hope he walks away victorious, his parents are grateful he has the opportunity to compete.
“Our motto is as long as you’re trying your hardest, that’s what’s important,” DJ Nordquist said.