Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, becoming the first African-American winner in the competition’s nearly 100-year history.
Avant-garde sealed her victory by correctly spelling the word ‘Murraya,’ a type of plant, after having to reset on another botanical word ‘Nepeta’ in a previous round.
The 14-year-old girl will receive a $50,000 cash prize.
Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from San Francisco, came in second after making a mistake in spelling ‘Neroli Oil,’ but she will still receive a runner-up cash prize of $25,000.
The National Spelling Bee has had only one other Black winner—Jody-Anne Maxwell who represented Jamaica in 1998.
The 2021 edition of the spelling competition was held in front of a live audience at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was in attendance at the finals and she met with the finalists and their families before Thursday’s competition started. Last year, organizers had been forced to cancel the competition for the first time since World War II due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2019 Spelling Bee crown was shared by eight winners after the organizers ran out of words that might challenge the contestants. For this year’s event, rule changes had been put in place to avoid multiple co-winners.