NATIONAL HARBOR,Md. – As the announcer named the top 50 spellers one by one,Yusra Hashmi never heard her name. Although she was disappointed,she said she knew the competition was tough,even more so than the previous years and was thankful to have gotten the chance to compete at the national level.
“I’m sad,but at least I got here,” Yusra,the 8th-grader at Gifford Middle School,said. “I did my best and I met a lot of people.”
Yusra competed in two of the preliminary rounds of the 85th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday. The first round,a written test,took place Tuesday. During that round,the children were asked to spell 50 words by keyboard,from those,a random 25 were counted. The score from the written test was added to the words that were spelled correctly in Rounds 2 and 3. The top 50 scorers,out of 278,are to compete in the semifinals on Thursday.
The qualifying score was a 23,and Yusra fell just shy.
“I’ve been there,” Sami,Yusra’s brother,said. “The first day you feel bad,but then you can cheer on others.”
Although she correctly spelled both of her words in the oral rounds,the written test was more of a challenge. Words on the written test included,“dubitante,” “ejido” and “outrecuidance.” Some of her spellings were off by only one letter.
“Even though she was trying to win,I am very proud,” Deeba Hashmi,Yusra’s mother,said. “The competition was very tough and she studied for one or two hours a day on top of other homework.”
Yusra’s road to get to this Bee was a long one,and started when she was in the fourth grade. But her hopes for making it to nationals surfaced after she won her first Indian River County Spelling Bee last year when she was in the seventh grade. She was the third Hashmi to win,along with her brothers Fahim,21 and Sami,18. Sami competed at the national level twice,in 2005 and 2006.
Yusra’s parents,Deeba and Masood,both medical doctors,believe studying for the competitions helped expand their knowledge of language. All of their children are bilingual and speak Urdu and English. Yusra can also read Arabic and is learning Spanish.
“The words all come from different roots and languages,” Deeba Hashmi said. “It’s fun for them to compare the root words. It opens up their minds internationally.”
Yusra used her iPad to record and study the words and their meanings. Her mother tested her to track her progress.
Hashmi and Yusra have an inside joke with one of her spelling words,“defenestration” which means throwing someone out of a window.
“She jokes about using it and others will not know what it means,” Hashmi said.
After winning the county Bee with the word “hydrology,” she went on to compete with 29 other spellers at the Treasure Coast Spelling Bee. She sailed through and won that one with the word “nobiliary.”
Yusra is the second Hashmi to compete in nationals.
“I’m feeling really proud,of course,” Deeba Hashmi said. “Very few people get the honor to have not one,but two … children compete at this level.”
Yusra,an eighth-grader who aims to become a psychiatrist,said being onstage didn’t bother her.
While some of the other “spellebrities” recited words frantically to themselves,taking deep breaths before their appearance on national television,Yusra laughed and shared her excitement with her brother and father before the spellers were called to the stage.
“I’m so excited that I couldn’t eat this morning,” Yusra said. “I’m a bit nervous,but mostly excited.”
After watching the Bee twice before,she was used to the hype.
“She seems calm now,” Sami Hashmi said. “But the nerves hit you once you get up there.”
When number 46 was called during Round 2,Yusra stepped up to the microphone. Jacques Bailly,a 10th-year announcer of the Bee,pronounced the word and Yusra politely asked for the definition and then to repeat the word.
It was just a stalling tactic. She had studied the word in her hotel room with her mother the night before.
“T-O-P-I-A-R-I-S-T. Topiarist,” Yusra said.
The audience clapped as she returned to her seat. She made it through Round 2 with a full three points.
“I just want her to have fun and do the best she can. No pressure on our part,” he said.
The experience from Round 2 helped her avoid flashing an “erubescent” grin during Round 3.
After asking for the definition,any other pronunciations and for the word to be used in a sentence,Yusra spelled “erubescent,” meaning red or blushing,correctly.
“I feel good that I got that over with,” Yusra said.
She said for her remaining time in the Washington area,she is going to relax and forget about spelling for a little while. She and her family plan to attend the semifinals and championship rounds Thursday to root for the two finalists from Miami.
“I feel good,” Masood Hashmi said. “She did very well to get this far.”
Although this was Yusra’s last chance to compete,she said she’s already started teaching her 2- year-old sister,Safia,her ABCs.
Deeba Hashmi said that the Spelling Bee is also a way to add celebrity to academics,and she is thankful for the event.
“This is great for the media to focus on academics,” she said. “Not everyone can be a movie star or play sports. It’s good to get them interested in reading and studying that will help them later in life.”
This year’s Bee features spellers from all across the U.S. and eight other countries,with contestants ranging in age from 6 to 15.
The winner of this year’s Bee will receive $30,000 in cash and an engraved trophy from Scripps,a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster,a $5,000 scholarship from Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation,$2,600 in reference works and a lifetime membership to Britannica Online Premium from Encyclopaedia Britannica,and an online language course and Nook Color from Middlebury Interactive Languages. The champion’s school and sponsor will also receive engraved plaques from Scripps.
The Championship Finals will air live Thursday from 8-10 p.m. EDT on ESPN.
Reach reporter Rebecca Burton at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.