Natasha Lovato / NewsBreak Denver
(Aurora, Colo.) Vikram Raju went into the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition with no expectations. Little did he know a second-place win was in his future.
Raju, a 12-year-old student at Aurora Quest K-8, made it to the 94th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. and claimed his second-place title on June 2. He scored his highest ranking on his third visit to the national bee.
Raju said he started without any expectations, but as he progressed, he found the experience of testing his training and knowledge with each word he spelled.
"When I'm on stage, definitely what I do is breathe and think of things I like, and I pray to help me find my center and focus," Raju said. "When I'm spelling, I block out the audience and focus on the word."
A portion of the competition included an intense back and forth between Raju and Harini Logan, a 14-year-old from San Antonio. The pair competed in the bee's first-ever lightning round spell-off to determine the champion. Each had 90 seconds to spell as many words as possible correctly. Logan spelled 22 of the 26 words she got through in 90 seconds, while Raju spelled 15 of 19 words.
Raju said despite the competitive nature of the bee, the best part is making friends with fellow competitors.
"The whole beauty of the spelling bee is that we all go head to head but we have so many common interests, it's hard not to make friends. Because we are all in the same boat, it keeps me motivated and it's that much more fun and enjoyable," Raju said.
Being trilingual boosts skill
Raju said he's proud he and other contestants have a chance to showcase their Indian heritage.
"The representation is great, because it really shows how many people I can relate with and it makes me feel that much more a part of the spelling community having so many people like me," he said.
Growing up, Raju learned how to speak Kannada, Tamil and English, which he said intrigued him to learn other varieties of words.
He believes that being trilingual helped set him up for success, and although he hopes to win first place next year, he plans to compete without any expectations.
Donating prize money
Now, Raju is excited to use his $25,000 prize to support environmental causes, humanitarian issues, a summer camp to help other kids learn to spell, and mental health initiatives — particularly with narcotic addiction.
Vikram's mother, Sandhya Ayyar, a doctor, said her work with people who have narcotic addictions affected her son.
"He wants to donate that prize money to things close to his heart," Ayyar said.
Raju shared that he also wants to save a portion of his winnings for his college fund so that he can someday revolutionize technology and medicine.
"I try to stay as objective as I can be, but he really is such a good human being," Ayyar said.
"He is so empathetic, he is encouraging to those other kids, he's got a photographic memory, he's a hard worker and I think he can do anything he wants if he puts his mind to it."
Enjoying his success
Now that the spelling bee is over, the family is enjoying the rush of Raju's self-made stardom.
Ayyar explained that it all hit the morning after the bee when a trip to Starbucks turned into a day full of autographs and selfies with Raju's fans.
"It has been such a great journey and no matter what happens next year, I'm just so glad to have participated in this opportunity. Only a percentage of people who participate actually make it to the Scripps Bee and it's been such an amazing, valuable journey," Raju said.
To watch a recap of Raju's performance, click here.