An aiguillette is an ornamental shoulder cord or braid worn by military aides to the president and by high-ranking officers. It’s also the word that spelled victory for Rosa International Middle School student Shruthika Padhy at the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The competition began on Monday, May 27 with 562 spellers. After nearly three and a half hours of competition, the 20th round of competition ended on Thursday, May 30 with eight spellers becoming the first-ever group to take the title of co-champions.
The bee has an eighth-grade age limit, so 2019 marked Padhy’s last chance at victory. She competed in 2016 and tied for 22nd place. In 2017, she tied for seventh place, and in 2018, she tied for 10th place.
For Padhy, prepping for the bee was a year-round effort. She carefully went through the dictionary and studied the root patterns of words to help attune her ears. She logged somewhere around five hours during the week and 15 hours on the weekends preparing for the competition.
However, the most challenging aspect of the competition wasn’t necessarily the words but being on stage. She said when you’re up on the stage with competition being nationally broadcast and only two minutes to spell, the pressure is on. But, she said she’s become increasingly comfortable with each subsequent year of competition and had a better idea of what to expect headed into the 2019 competition.
During the last round of competition, Padhy was just trying to focus on her next word. She told herself to treat every word and approach each round the same way. When she got her final word, she knew the spelling, but she told herself to stay calm and not get too excited.
She carefully spelled it using her finger as a writing utensil as she wrote the word across the palm of her hand. When she heard she’d spelled it correctly, a beaming smile spread across Padhy’s face as she walked across the stage to join her co-champions.
“That was pretty amazing,” Padhy said. “It’s really special to be able to share it with seven other spellers.”
Padhy earned a $2,500 cash prize, a trophy and a complete reference library for her victory. Her phone was immediately flooded with messages from friends and family congratulating her on the win. She said in all the years she’s competed, she’s been met with an overwhelming amount of support from her friends, family and the Cherry Hill community.
Along the way, Padhy has balanced her spelling studies with playing field hockey, flute practice and performing classical music. She said having competed since fifth grade, she feels like she’s grown up with the bee, and the competition has taught her some important life lessons about time management, perseverance and determination.
“It’s very special to grow up with the bee and doing the bee,” Pady said. “I’ve been doing it since fifth grade, and every year, it’s really incredible to have that support behind me [from] the community, my teachers and my family.”