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Union Co. student advances to finals for Scripps National Spelling Bee

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 6:21 AM EDT
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WAXHAW, N.C. (WBTV) - A Union County rising ninth-grader is heading to the final 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. The semi-finals were held this past weekend and Gajula advanced to the final round.

Gajula is one of 11 finalists in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

He is also the only student from North Carolina going to the semifinal round.

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Gajula said when advancing to the semi-finals. “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. Now that number is down to 11. 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.

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 were held June 27, and consisted of at least three different rounds including word meaning, words, and a traditional spelling bee.

Gajula and the other finalists will compete in person on July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.

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