Spelling Bee champ Zaila Avant-garde receives full LSU scholarship offer

"You modeled intellectual excellence," LSU President William F. Tate IV says in a tweet to the champ

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After becoming the first Black American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week, Zaila Avant-garde has bagged another honor: a full scholarship offer to Louisiana State University.

“Your academic performance reflected scholarship first! You modeled intellectual excellence,” LSU President William F. Tate IV said in a Saturday tweet. “@LSU_Honors awaits. I write to offer you a full scholarship to attend LSU. Here for you!”

The teenager made an appearance at the ESPY Awards in New York City on Saturday and told reporters that she’s still quite stunned by her historic spelling bee win.

“I’m feeling pretty good. I still can’t quite believe that I won Scripps National Spelling Bee, so I’m still waiting for that to settle in,” she said on the red carpet. “So I guess my weekend is gonna get even more exciting when I realize.”

As previously reported in theGrio, Avant-garde made history on Thursday when she became the first Black American winner in the 96-year history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 14-year-old basketball prodigy from Harvey, Louisiana, breezed to the championship. The only previous Black winner was also the only Black champion from outside the United States: Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.

“I’m hoping that within the next few years, I can see a little bit of an influx of African Americans, and [there are] not many Hispanic people, either, so I’m hoping to see them there, too,” Avant-garde said. 

She competed against 208 other contestants from five countries and leaped with excitement after spelling the winning word “murraya,” a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees.

Former President Barack Obama took to Twitter on Friday morning to celebrate the teen’s accomplishment.

“Three Guinness World Records and now the national spelling bee champ! Congrats, Zaila—your hard work is paying off. We’re all proud of you,” he wrote.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared a video of Avant-garde on Twitter and wrote, “Yes, Zaila! We are so, so proud of you!”

Actress Halle Berry also took to Twitter to celebrate Avant-garde. She wrote, “Wait … she’s our spelling bee champ and can play like this? Yes, Zaila! LOVE. IT.” — referring to a viral video of Avant-garde playing basketball.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell tweeted of Avant-garde’s historic win, “Talk about #blackgirlmagic! Congratulations to Zaila Avant-Garde, a 14-year-old from Harvey La., for winning the Scripps National #SpellingBee! She’s the First African American winner and the First champion from Louisiana! We’re all so proud of you!!”

Zaila has described spelling as a side hobby, although she routinely practiced for seven hours a day. She is a basketball standout who hopes to play someday in the WNBA and holds three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously.

Avant-garde told CNN that she hopes to play basketball at Harvard University or work at NASA. 

“I want to inspire everybody, especially African-Americans girls,” she told People after her big win.

“I like working with NASA and doing gene editing,” she added. “I have a lot of different things I’m interested in.”

*This story contains additional reporting from theGrio‘s Jared Alexander and Associated Press.

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