Audubon School seventh-grader Aaron Chang advances to National Spelling Bee

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Seventh-grader Aaron Chang from the Audubon Elementary School with his trophy after winning the Citywide Spelling Bee Championship at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

After consecutive years of second-place finishes, seventh-grader Aaron Chang finally got to take home the big trophy.

And even though he’d twice missed out on being named the winner, Aaron, from Audubon School, didn’t have much to say after coming out on top during Thursday’s Chicago Public Schools’ annual Citywide Spelling Bee Championship.

“It feels pretty amazing,” he said.

Coming into another year of the competition at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Aaron said he “felt pretty confident.” But he also said that after getting this year’s list of words, he “was kind of nervous.”

But those nerves didn’t stop him from acing all the words thrown at him throughout the Spelling Bee.

After the other finalist, eighth-grader Maya Joshi from South Loop Elementary, tripped up over the spelling of “exaggerate,” Aaron correctly spelled “pembroke” — in addition to “privet” beforehand — to finally land the top honor.

When asked what the hardest word to spell was, however, Aaron admitted “it wasn’t the last two.” “Acculturation” a few rounds earlier was the one that early stumped him.

Maya’s twin sister, Riya, won the competition both of the past two years.

This year’s contest included competitors ranging from 2nd to 8th grade. Aaron and Maya made the final three along with South Loop Elementary fourth-grader Sinan Abuzayd.

Sinan had a challenging day as the youngest of the final five spellers — but he wanted it to be even harder.

Though he flew through round after round of words like “backstein” and “perestroika,” while walking out the room for a break mid-competition, he told his dad he wished he could spell other kids’ words too.

“I wanted to spell glockenspiel,” Sinan said.

After his first time competing in the spelling bee, Sinan already had his sights on returning in 2020.

That’s because — as Sinan says — the event’s “a chance to get really competitive, win awards, and it’s also really fun too.”

Aaron’s mom, Susanna Chang, said it was “incredible” to finally see her son take home the title after two years of second-place finishes.

She added she can’t wait for Aaron to travel to Washington, D.C., in May for the Scripps National Spelling Bee and have the chance to be around other kids as passionate about words as he is.

“He tried so hard and so long,” she said. “We just kind of left the results in God’s hands and would’ve been happy either way, but it’s really exciting that he’s going to go.”

The winner of the national competition gets a $40,000 cash prize from Scripps and a $2,500 U.S. savings bond from Merriam-Webster.

But Aaron said that’s not what he’s looking forward to most about their trip to D.C. in two months.

“I’m excited mostly about the fact that I’m just actually going and get to meet all the other people there,” he said.

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