Education & Family

Cameo: Saketh Sundar

Co-champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, incoming freshman at River Hill High School

How did you get involved with spelling bees?
In fourth grade, they announced that there would be a school-wide spelling bee. So I signed up, participated, and then I won and got to advance to county. I thought I could actually be good at it, but that year I lost at the county bee, and that motivated me to come back the next year. Every year I just kept improving upon my failures from the previous years. In the beginning, I just did spelling because I thought I was good at it. I also liked learning more words and learning the definitions of the words and having a better vocabulary.

What about spelling interests you?
I like how every word has its own little story. Words could be from a few different languages, and you can figure out each language’s influence on that word. You can also take apart the words using roots to see where they come from and what they mean.

This year was your fourth time competing at the National Spelling Bee. Take us back to your first year competing at the national levelwhat was that like?
I was in fifth grade and rather unprepared. I just went in to have fun and didn’t really expect to do well. I never thought I would be there in fifth grade, so it was crazy that I was going to be on the spelling bee stage that I saw on TV. It was a surreal and amazing experience.

How did you feel going into this year’s competition?
I was a bit more nervous. In sixth grade I did really well for how I start- ed, but then in seventh grade I studied really hard and I ended up knowing al- most every word in that year’s bee except for the one that I got. I thought I could do pretty well this year, maybe top three or top five, but I didn’t really want to think about winning, because I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself.

You said that you already knew how to spell your winning word, which was “bougainvillea.” What was going through your head when the announcer said it?
The first thing I thought was all of its different spellings—which one could it possibly be? Then I keep that in my mind and I asked for each of the pieces of information, like the country of origin, to see if there was anything I needed to change about the spelling that I had in my head. I wanted to make sure that it’s the correct spelling be- fore I said anything.

What was it like to share the win with seven other spellers?
It was fun because we were all pretty much friends with each other since we’d all been to the National Bee a couple of times. We were all happy, and it’s been cool because we all get to share the media attention instead of it being focused on one person.

What are you looking forward to next?
High school, I guess.