Finalists competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee got a visit from one of the nation's most prominent educators on Thursday: First Lady Jill Biden.
The first lady donned her Vogue cover dress as she met with spellers and their families in their private holding rooms before the bee Thursday evening and made brief remarks onstage.
She then sat in the audience as she watched the competition, which was won by an African American student for the first time in the franchise's history.
'I wanted to be here personally to tell you that the president and I are so proud of all that you've accomplished,' the first lady told the crowd.
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First Lady Jill Biden told the 11 finalists at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday that she and the president are proud of all they had accomplished
The first lady, an English professor, mentioned she was once her school's spelling bee champion but she faked being sick so she would not have to compete
Biden wore a face mask due to the coronavirus pandemic, as she sat with a family member of a contestant
She arrived in Florida Thursday evening for the Spelling Bee, after a day trying to convince Georgians to get vaccinated against the disease, and was greeted by Rep. Val Demmings when she arrived in Orlando
This year's bee was delayed because of the pandemic and all preliminary rounds were held virtually.
Only the 11 finalists competed in person Thursday night, at an ESPN campus near Walt Disney World in Florida.
Biden previously attended the bee in 2009 in Washington, D.C.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
She is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, where she also worked during the eight years that President Joe Biden was vice president, and she has her own history in competitive spelling.
'In sixth grade, I was my school's spelling bee champion. I had a chance to go to the next level, but on the day of the regional competition, I told my mother that I was sick,' she told the spellers.
She then sat in the audience with some of the families and watched as the young spellers got picked off one-by-one until 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde was named the winner as she spelled 'murraya,' a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees.
She is the first African American winner since the Scripps Spelling Bee first started in 1925 and is only the second black champion in the bee's 96-year history.
She won by properly spelling 'murraya,' a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees
Zaila Avant-garde triumphantly held up her trophy after winning the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee
Zalia, a 14-year-old from Louisiana, is the first African American student to win the coveted spelling prize
Zaila, from Louisiana, has described spelling as a side hobby, although she routinely practiced for seven hours a day. She is a basketball prodigy who hopes to play some day in the WNBA and holds three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously.
She seemed to know nearly every word and its origins, the New York Times reports, smiling each time Jacques A. Bailly, the pronouncer, gave her a new word to spell.
Only one word gave her any real trouble, 'nepeta,' a genus of Old World mints, which she still managed to get correctly, jumping with joy at her success.
The last few words were rattled off quickly, the Times reports, between Zaila and her opponent, Chaitra Thummula, a 12-year-old from Texas. The first was 'fewtrils,' meaning things of little value, which Chaitra got correct, then 'retene,' a crystalline hydrocarbon, which Zaila got right.
But when Chaitra was confronted with the word 'neroli oil,' a fragrant pale yellow essential oil obtained from flowers chiefly that is used in cologne and as a flavoring, she fumbled on the vowels, leading Zaila to claim victory with the word 'murraya.'
As she got it correct, she visibly twirled and leaped with excitement.
Both Zaila and Chaitra are coached by Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student who was the 2015 Scripps runner-up.
Vivinsha Veduru, 10, of Fort Worth, Texas, was one of the 11 finalists to take part in the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World on Thursday night
Bhavana Madini, 13, from New York, was consoled by her family members after being eliminated from the bee
Zaila Avant-garde is congratulated for advancing to the final two contestants
Judges originally ruled Roy Seligman, 12, from Nassau, the Bahamas, correct on his spelling of the word 'ambystoma,' a genus of salamanders, but when they did an instant replay they discovered he spelled the word with an 'I' rather than a 'Y' and he was eliminated from the competition
At one point in the competition, judges had to make the rare move of airing a replay as they worked to determine whether Roy Seligman, a 12-year-old from Nassau, the Bahamas misspelled 'ambystoma' a genus of salamanders.
At first, USA Today reports, judges ruled he was correct, but