Wisconsin seventh grader makes it to National Spelling Bee semifinals

Madison's Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya correctly spells 'ctenidium' and 'glomerulonephritis'

a boy in a wheelchair competes in a spelling bee

Craig Hudson / Scripps National Spelling Bee

Madison seventh grader Aiden Wijeyakulasuriya advanced to the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Wednesday. After correctly spelling “ctenidium,” he was eliminated in the seventh round of play.

This was Wijeyakulasuriya’s second trip to the national spelling competition, having first competed as a third-grader in 2019.

“We’re so proud of him,” said school principal Steve Castrogiovanni.

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Wijeyakulasuriya qualified for the national bee by winning his school’s spelling bee, the Madison all-city bee and the statewide bee, Castrogiovanni said.

In the first rounds of the national competition, he correctly spelled the words “bahuvrihi,” “burpee” and “glomerulonephritis.”

Spellers in the Scripps competition can ask for information about the words, such as definition and language of origin. They can also ask if words come from specific roots in languages like Latin or Greek.

Wijeyakulasuriya correctly spelled “ctenidium,” meaning “a structure consisting of a row of spines resembling the teeth of a comb on the head or thorax, or both, or certain fleas,” in the sixth round of play.

In 2021, “word meaning” rounds were added to the competition as a way to challenge contestants’ understanding of words and discourage rote memorization. In these rounds, competitors are asked to choose the correct definition of a word from three options.

Wijeyakulasuriya was eliminated during round seven of play, a word meaning round, when he was asked to select a definition for the word “obviate.” He chose “disguise its true nature,” when the correct answer was “make it unnecessary.”

According to Wijeyakulasuriya’s biography, he enjoys activities like Boy Scouts, tae kwon do and traveling.

“He is probably the most humble kid that I know,” Castrogiovanni said. “Super bright, super friendly, would give you the shirt off of his back. He was very driven. He’s very well-rounded, he’s not just a speller — he’s great at math, he loves playing the oboe, he plays tennis.”

The final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee will air live Thursday night.

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