Westminster School District buzzes with pride as student competes in Scripps National Spelling Bee

  • Katelyn_Nguyen_Spelling_Bee_Courtesy_Scripps_National_Spelling_Bee_Huntington_Beach_2024
  • 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee wide
  • Katelyn Nguyen Scripps Spelling Bee waiting for turn

Joining millions of viewers across the country watching on television and online, a swarm of fans back in Orange County rooted for seventh-grader Katelyn Nguyen as she represented them at the 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland. 

Katelyn, a 13-year-old student from the Westminster School District, competed in four rounds, spelling words like “ubi sunt,” “schooner” and “durbar” perfectly before getting eliminated with the word “ritsu,” mistakenly swapping the “s” with a “z.” Ritsu is a Hinayana Buddhist school founded in Japan in A.D. 754. 

“This experience was truly a dream come true,” Katelyn said. “I’ve always loved watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee ever since I was in elementary school, and it felt so surreal for me to be able to compete in this competition.”

The Stacey Middle School student tied for 60th place. In total, there were 245 elementary and middle-school students competing in the 96th annual national event. The spellers represented all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. Department of Defense Schools in Europe. 

The students had 90 seconds to correctly spell a word once it was pronounced, with no questions allowed during the final 15 seconds of their turn. They had to do this while other regional champion spellers, their families and closest supporters watched from the audience, with the added pressure of cameras rolling live to millions of viewers.

Scripps reported that last year’s semifinals and finals drew 9.2 million viewers to the ION network, where the competition was streamed live. 

Orange County Spelling Bee

Kaitlyn Nguyen Orange County Spelling Bee winner 2024

Katelyn qualified for the national competition by winning the Orange County Spelling Bee, which was held at the Orange County Department of Education in partnership with the Orange County Register, on March 2. Her winning word was “discretionary,” which means subject to individual choice or judgment.

The middle schooler made history in her district as the first to qualify for and participate in the national spelling bee. 

“We are incredibly proud of all that Katelyn has accomplished,” Rick Nichols, principal at Stacey Middle School, said. “She inspires every student to dream big and pursue their goals. Katelyn has demonstrated remarkable grit and determination, balancing her school studies with her spelling bee preparation.”

Leading up to the 18 high-stakes rounds at the regional bee, Katelyn shared that she loves reading because it introduces her to new worlds and words. For years, she has enlisted the help of her parents as they quizzed her with varying words of difficulty. 

Katelyn’s support system

Katelyn Nguyen and support system

Describing the trip as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, Katelyn was accompanied by her parents — Binh and Kim Nguyen — her sister, Krystine, and Barbara Griffith, her former sixth-grade teacher at Schroeder Elementary who also supported her at the regional competition in Costa Mesa.

“As parents watching our child compete on stage, it was surreal for us, and we felt nervous whenever it was her time at the microphone,” her father, Binh, said. “We hope that Katelyn will cherish the experiences, knowledge and friends she gained from this trip to enhance her love and passion for spelling and enrich her life for years to come.”

Before her big trip, the staff and students at Stacey Middle School held a surprise celebration to show their support. They let her know that no matter how she placed in the competition, she would always be their champion.

“I am very thankful and grateful to my classmates and campus,” said Katelyn. “Their support was what drove me to try my hardest and gave me confidence to compete on stage.”

In the end, Bruhat Soma — a 12-year-old student from Florida — triumphed over the competition after 14 rounds, correctly spelling 29 out of 30 words in Scripps’ second-ever spell-off, where competitors had 90 seconds to spell as many words as possible.

This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee aired on May 28 through May 30 on ION.

For more information about the Orange County Spelling Bee, visit: https://ocde.us/SpellingBee.