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Are you smarter than an 11th-grader?

Jessica Hong, an 11th-grader at Braden River High School, seemed uncannily calm as one of four finalists in the Southwest Florida Regional Brain Bee on Saturday.

Jessica sat on a stage at the front of an auditorium at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, along with Prachiti Dalvi of Bartow International Baccalaureate, Nakita Kiger of Riverview High School and Jessica’s good friend from Braden River, Chanel McGregor, for the elimination round.

One finalist, and then a second, dropped out of the competition after missing three questions, until only Prachiti and Jessica were left.

And then Prachiti missed her third question, out of eight asked, to finish second.

That left Jessica all alone, perfect on all seven questions she had been asked.

Even though she was the champ, Dr. Mark Best asked her one more question for good measure: What does the acronym MAO stand for?

Finally, a stumper. MAO stands for monoamine oxidase, inhibitors used to relieve certain types of mental depression.

For her smarts and poise, Jessica won $200 and an invitation to attend the USA National Brain Bee Championships on March 14 at the University of Maryland.

Afterward, Jessica admitted to a bit of nervousness before the elimination round, but said she settled down once Dr. Best began asking those hard questions.

Like most of the Brain Bee contestants, Jessica is enrolled in LECOM’s Human Body Explored class, which meets the second Tuesday of each month October through May. “I am thinking of going to medical school or doing something in the medical field,” she said.

Jessica recognizes the United States offers wonderful opportunities for anyone who wants to take advantage.

She was born at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, but her parents, ethnic Chinese who escaped from Saigon after the Vietnam War, fled to Thailand, and then were moved to the Philippines before coming to this area 27 years ago.

“She’s a good girl,” says Jessica’s mother, Kim. The family was unable to help Jessica much with her lessons, because they didn’t speak enough English at the time. The little girl had to learn on her own. Obviously, it worked out OK, because Jessica flourishes in the classroom, speaks English and Cantonese, and is learning Mandarin online. She is also a bagger at the University Walk Publix.

Here’s another tidbit I gleaned from the Brain Bee:

Pranali Dalvi, last year’s LECOM Brain Bee winner as a 10th-grader, was born in Mumbai, India, and moved to the United States with her family when she was 2. Pranali was in the audience Saturday to cheer on her twin sister, Prachiti.

You can’t help but be awed and inspired by these young women, not only for their intellectual prowess, but their poise and sophistication.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.

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