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D.C. Student Makes it to 3rd Round of National Spelling Bee

Dorothy Rowley | 5/29/2013, 11:08 p.m.
When it comes to spelling some of the most obscure words in the English language, 13-year-old Donovan Rolle can pass ...
Donovan Rolle (Courtesy of public.spellingbee.com)

When it comes to spelling some of the most obscure words in the English language, 13-year-old Donovan Rolle can pass muster among the best of his peers.

And, although he didn’t make it to the semi-finals of this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee that’s taking place this week at the Gaylord Hotel and Resort at National Harbor, Md., Donovan – who was the only student from D.C. to participate in the contest – proved his mettle all the way through the third round Wednesday, having correctly spelled “bacciferous.”

“Tell me everything you know about it,” a confident and smiling Donovan shot back to spelling announcer Jacques Bailly, who tossed the word at him.

At that moment, stress-relieving laughter erupted in the hotel’s Maryland Ballroom, which was packed with hundreds of family, friends and supporters of the 281 students from across the U.S. and several other countries who participated in the highly-acclaimed annual event.

When Bailly, winner of the 1980 Scripps competition, responded that the word is an adjective of Latin origin, meaning “bearing berries,” Donovan, an eighth-grader at Howard University Middle School for Math and Science in Northwest, politely thanked him before quickly calling out the letters. His correct spelling garnered a thunderous round of applause.

“I felt good about having advanced [that] far,” said Donovan, who recently participated in a local spelling competition sponsored by The Washington Informer.

He recalled correctly spelling the word, “ombrology (the scientific study of rain),” in The Informer’s annual competition, which catapulted him into the national event.

“I prepared myself for the Scripps bee and did pretty well,” said Donovan, adding that he first became interested in spelling competitions in the fourth grade.

Donovan’s mother, attorney Stenise R. Sanders, 35, like many of the parents who accompanied their children to the competition in hopes that they would spell their way to the $30,000 cash prize, said she tends to be on edge each time her son takes center stage.

“I’m nervous and I have a heart attack almost every time he spells. I can’t take it,” Sanders said.

She admitted that both she and Donovan had been hopeful of him competing among the 42 students who progressed Wednesday evening to the semi-finals.

“We said our prayers,” Sanders said. [But] “I didn’t want to stress him out that much more, because it’s already been very stressful.”