Union Co. student is only North Carolinian going to semifinals for Scripps National Spelling Bee

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 6:30 PM EDT
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WAXHAW, N.C. (WBTV) - A Union County rising ninth-grader is heading to the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The competition is virtual this year but the stakes are still high.

Sreethan Gajula just graduated from eighth grade at Marvin Ridge Middle School in Waxhaw.

He’s one of the 30 semifinalists for this weekend’s competition. He is also the only student from North Carolina going to the semifinal round.

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Gajula said. “I mean just being on that same stage I’ve seen for so many years that I’ve dreamed of being on, it’s really just an honor and really humbling.”

Gajula has been participating in spelling bees since he was in fifth grade. He’s competed at his elementary and middle schools, in regional competitions, and in India.

“That was kind of when I found that fire within me,” he said.

With the help of his mom, he’s spent up to six hours every day for the last three months studying the dictionary, word stems, and word meanings.

In just two weeks the competition whittled 209 students down to 30. Competitors came from across the United States, Canada, Ghana, Japan, and other countries.

Gajula admits the competition isn’t always easy especially with the difficulty of the words, but he trusts his gut every time.

“On my table are a bunch of sweaty palm marks (laughs) but after Dr. Bailey says my first word I usually calm down and try to solve the word,” he said.

As he advances into the semi-finals this weekend, he’s encouraging the other students who didn’t make it, to continue working towards next year’s competition.

“One misspelled word will not define your life and keep going,” he said.

No matter the outcome - he says it’s not about how you place, but how you persevere.

“Of course I want to qualify for the finals but it’s the journey that counts not the end result. This journey has really taught me a lot about myself and determination, hard work, perseverance, and this has really been a life-changing journey,” he said.

The semifinals are this Sunday, June 27, and consist of at least three different rounds including word meaning, words, and a traditional spelling bee.

The top 10-12 students will compete in person on July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.

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