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NC school goes all out to celebrate a student’s ‘golden achievement’ at Spelling Bee

In World
June 03, 2024

The love that elite speller Ananya Rao Prassanna got on Monday was arguably sweeter than all the national attention the 13-year-old Cary student has received over the past week.

Around 800 of Prassanna’s classmates lined up along Davis Drive Middle School’s driveway on Monday morning to cheer her third-place finish at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Prassanna came close on Thursday to becoming the first North Carolinian to win the Spelling Bee since 1970.

“We just want to say Ananya, congratulations,” Davis Drive Middle Principal Michael Hokenberg said during the ceremony. “Thank you so much for representing Davis Drive Middle, Wake County Public Schools. It was a wonderful week. We’re so proud of you.”

The school presented Prassanna with a banner and a No. 3 Davis Drive Middle jersey as the band played “Happy.”

In recognition of all the support Davis Drive has given, Prassanna’s parents gave her Bee medal to temporarily display in the school’s trophy case.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna poses with her Scripps National Spelling Bee medals following a celebration honoring her third-place finish in the competition on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna poses with her Scripps National Spelling Bee medals following a celebration honoring her third-place finish in the competition on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C.

Prassanna said she felt the school had her back during the entire Spelling Bee. Teachers and friends helped her keep up on her schoolwork and watched the competition in class.

Hokenberg drove up to the Bee, held just outside Washington D.C., when his flight was delayed due to tornado warnings.

“I’m just so grateful because I’ve never really had this big of a community support me that much before,” Prassanna told reporters on Monday.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna smiles as she is greeted by Principal Michael Hokenberg during a celebration on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. honoring Prassanna’s third-place finish in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna smiles as she is greeted by Principal Michael Hokenberg during a celebration on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. honoring Prassanna’s third-place finish in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

‘I tried my best’

Last week’s epic performance was the culmination of years of hard work. She spent three to four hours a day on weekdays and five to six hours a day on weekends studying for the Bee.

Prassanna had made the Bee quarterfinals in 2022 and 2023. Her goal was to advance to the semifinals this year.

But Prassanna quickly advanced among the 245 spellers this year to get to the nationally televised finals. She became a fan favorite with her smile and exclamation of joy after successfully spelling each word.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna reacts while riding past hundreds of her classmates gathered in celebration on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. to honor Prassanna’s third-place finish in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna reacts while riding past hundreds of her classmates gathered in celebration on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. to honor Prassanna’s third-place finish in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

As other spellers among the “elite eight” fell, Prassanna was still standing among the final three contestants.

“I seriously thought I was going to win it because it was a fair playing field,” Prassanna said. “Everyone was at the same level of proficiency. I just feel like I tried my best on my words, but I’m just so glad that I made it this far in seventh grade.”

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna receives a hug from Assistant Principal Anna Best during a celebration on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. honoring Prassanna’s third-place finish in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Davis Drive Middle School seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna receives a hug from Assistant Principal Anna Best during a celebration on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. honoring Prassanna’s third-place finish in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Will she return to Bee?

Prassanna is eligible to return to the Bee next year as an eighth-grade student. But she’s not committing to it yet.

Prassanna says there are other things she’d like to pursue such as starting a Spelling Bee club at school and exploring more science classes. Her father, Prassanna Rao Rajgopal, says she’s also interested in tutoring students at the adjoining Davis Drive Elementary School.

Hundreds of Davis Drive Middle School students cheer as seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna and her family arrive at the school on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. Prassanna placed third in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Hundreds of Davis Drive Middle School students cheer as seventh-grader Ananya Rao Prassanna and her family arrive at the school on Monday, June 3, 2024, in Cary, N.C. Prassanna placed third in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I just don’t want to be hyped too much and not make it that far,” Prassanna said. “But I feel like 3rd place is a very good farewell to spelling. I think that’s a golden achievement, and I’m glad I left it there.”

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