Bresaola. Thymele. Paulopost.
Shruthika Padhy, 13, of Cherry Hill, knew how to spell it all. And she did just that Thursday night, becoming one of eight winners at the 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md. It was a marathon competition, ending in the 20th round.
Scripps officials, saying they were running low on challenging words, made the unprecedented move of declaring multiple victors. In the end, in addition to Padhy, they crowned Rishik Gandhasri, 13; Erin Howard, 14; Saketh Sundar, 13; Sohum Sukhatankar, 13; Abhijay Kodali, 12; Christopher Serrao, 13, and Rohan Raja, 13. Over three days, they bested more than 550 others. Each of the eight was awarded the full $50,000 prize.
Padhy, also an avid field hockey player, is an eighth grader at Rosa International Middle School in Cherry Hill. It was her fourth year competing and the last time she was eligible for the spelling bee. On Thursday, she became Rosa’s first student to win.
She spoke with The Inquirer on Friday. Her responses have been trimmed and lightly edited for clarity.
Q: What was going through your head when you were on stage last night and announced as a winner?
A: I was thinking about how grateful I was, and I was really happy.
Q: How was this time different from the last three times you competed? What made you want to keep coming back?
A: This time, I definitely had more experience, which helped me kind of know how to prepare and learn from past years. I learned from what I did last year to help me improve this year. I wanted to try again. I always wanted to do better.
Q: How did you prepare? Did you change your strategy?
A: I really did the same thing, except more intensified and a lot more studying. I use resources such as Quizlet, roots, and looking at etymological patterns — things I figure out looking at more and more words.
Q: How did you decide you wanted to become a spelling champion?
A: I was around 5 when I was doing spelling bees, and around 6 is when I heard about the national spelling bee. My parents entered me in my first competition.
Q: Can you take me through your thinking process? How do you figure out how to spell a word when you’re not entirely sure about it?
A: So, for all my words, I was sure I knew my words from the moment I heard it. So I really just asked the questions to reinforce that I was going to spell the words correctly.
Q: Your winning word was “aiguillette” (braided ornamentation on military uniforms). When you were asked to spell it, did you know within a moment you had it?
A: I knew it from the moment I heard it. And I wanted to treat it like any other word and go through it calmly and methodically, not get distracted and make a mistake. I did have a semblance of what it meant. [While preparing], I just looked at the dictionary and made lists and [aiguillette] happened to be on my list.
Q: Your parents looked like they were on edge last night watching you on stage. How are they doing today?
A: They’re so happy and very relieved that I spelled my words correctly. My parents [Sujata Sabat and Uma Padhy] definitely helped me. They helped take me to bees or quiz me or help me make lists.
Q: Do you have advice for future Scripps competitors, or even just for people who want to be better spellers?
A: I would say, read a lot, definitely. That’s a big part. And build up your vocabulary.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I am going to high school next year.
“I’m extremely proud of her," her mother said. "She put in a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of patience, and that is something that I can help her with, but it’s something she has to have the drive to go on. She did a lot of things on her own. I’m really proud of her achievements.”
Staff at Padhy’s school, too, were brimming with pride Friday.
“She’s a role model and she’s an all-around kind and conscientious student," said her English teacher, Jen Aristone. "She’s the ideal asset you want in a classroom.”
Aristone’s colleagues — principal George Guy and assistant principal Lynn Vosbikian — further lauded Padhy and her family, with Vosbikian calling the eighth grader a “Renaissance woman.”
“I just think her father and mother and brother [Prachat]'s influence come into what we [see] as a student every day,” Guy said.
Padhy returns to school next week, they said, and her fellow students are eagerly awaiting her arrival. The night of the spelling bee, they were glued to the television. When she spelled her way to the top, clutching the gold trophy with her co-winners, the students at Rosa cheered along.