Just a few points prevented Nila Dhinaker from attaining her goal of reaching the top 40 in the nation’s most prestigious spelling bee last month. That leaves her a year to take a second shot at a more favorable outcome.
The Gilbert resident and Cooley Middle School student officially finished 47th overall at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 27-29. She earned the trip by winning the 2014 AEF Arizona Spelling Bee in March, which came after she won her classroom, school, and district competitions.
Finishing 47th overall put Dhinaker within the top 17 percent of all the bee’s competitors — 281 spellers took part in the event — but she fell short of making it to the televised semifinals and from there into the top 40. Even though she spelled her two words, apothecary and mikado, correctly, she missed the cut off due to the scoring system that combined those two words with a preliminary multiple-choice exam.
“I was so close, I was a couple of points shy of the cut off,” she said.
While many people would be satisfied with such a result, especially in their first competition, Dhinaker said she is disappointed with the end result given her expectations to make it to the top 40.
Cooley seventh-grade teacher Kaycie Olson, who taught Dhinaker last school year, had even higher expectations than Dhinaker, as she expected her former student could make it to the top 10. Olson emphasized she’s proud of Dhinaker’s performance, but her optimism for her former student’s performance came in large part from the speller’s personality. As Olson put it, the 12-year-old “has grace under pressure and she has something special inside her.”
“She has it in her to do anything she wants to do, so this is a lesson for her,” Olson said.
The lesson, for Dhinaker, is to hit the books even harder than she did this time around and study many more hours in preparation for the 2015 competition.
Her experience in Washington also offered a primer for what to expect in the next competition, and showcased the high-caliber talent she could face next year.
“It was a learning experience most of all, but I really have to be on my game to do better next year,” she said.
Dhinaker admitted she was nervous when she had to step on stage to spell her two words, but she said the nervousness waned eventually and she has become more comfortable in those types of situations.
“I’ll forever be very good at public speaking,” she said.
Dhinaker said the trip itself was pretty fun. She got to tour around the city a little bit and absorb its history, with the Lincoln Memorial serving as a highlight for the trip. She also added a few more pen pals to her collection thanks to her time with the other competitors.
An additional highlight came when she arrived home from Washington when a cadre of neighbors, friends and well wishers greeted her at the airport. Dhinaker said the first surprise homecoming — a second celebration took place closer to home and came courtesy of a few Girl Scouts — included words of encouragement from relatives across the globe and a few posters.
The warm welcome reinforced the support Dhinaker said she has from her friends, teachers, school, her school district and especially her family, and it came at exactly the right moment.
“I was airsick and I felt sad I didn’t make my goal, but they cheered me up.”