14-year-old desi girl wins Spelling Bee

Congrats, Anamika Veeramani!

The fourteen-year-old eighth grader from North Royalton, Ohio became the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion last night. Anamika won the trophy and $40,000 in cash and prizes after correctly spelling “stromuhr.” (If, like me, you weren’t familiar with that word, it’s “an instrument for measuring the velocity of the blood flow.”)

Anamika is the third consecutive Indian-American spelling bee champion (following Kavya Shivashankar last year and Sameer Mishra in 2008.) An astonishing 8 out of the last 12 spelling bee champions have been Indian-American. Slate’s Explainer column thinks the phenomenon can be attributed to the community’s “minor-league spelling bee circuit”:

The [North South Foundation] circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans—there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking—and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India. There is little financial reward for winners (just a few thousand dollars in college scholarships) compared with the $40,000 winning purse handed out each year by Scripps. Still, more than 3,000 kids participated in NSF’s spelling events this year due in part to what NSF founder Ratnam Chitturi calls a sort of Kavya Effect. “Most American kids look up to sports figures,” he says. “Indian kids are more interested in education, and they finally have a role model.”

For their part, Anamika’s family told the AP that they don’t know why Indian-Americans thrive at the bee:

[Anamika’s father Alagaiya Veeramani] guessed it has something to do with a hard-work ethic.

“This has been her dream for a very, very long time. It’s been a family dream, too,” said Veeramani, explaining that his daughter studied as many as 16 hours on some days. “I think it has to do with an emphasis on education.”

16 hours a day! Here’s hoping you have a relaxing summer, Anamika. You earned it.


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