Alisha Chakravarty is no stranger to winning spelling bees. The Turlock Junior High School student has displayed her talents at both the county and state level, and has even competed on the national stage. Chakravarty most recently made her mark at the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s junior high spelling bee as champion — the second time in the past three years that she has been the best in the county.
“It feels really good, mainly because I won on a word that I actually knew really well,” Chakravarty said.
That word? Sacrilegious.
“No one else knew how to spell it except me,” she said.
In fact, Chakravarty spelled so many words correctly that other students got wrong, the eighth grader was announced as the first champion early. The remaining students continued the competition to see who would be named the other champion, as two spellers from the Nov. 15 county spelling bee would advance to the state event.
In addition to earning a spot representing Stanislaus County at the State Championship in May — she also made it to State elementary bee as a sixth grader in 2017, where she placed in the top five — Chakravarty said her most recent victory meant a lot to her because of one thing: redemption.
“Last year in seventh grade, I came really close to winning,” she said. She first became a county elementary champion in the sixth grade, and in seventh she received a gold medal but did not win.
“When they said the word ‘sacrilegious’ my mouth dropped open as I sat in my seat. I couldn’t believe it because it was a word I had practiced so many times with my mom.”
Chakravarty takes the spelling bees she competes in seriously, studying for anywhere from two to four hours per day. She studies suffixes and prefixes, she said, and has also taught herself multiple foreign languages over the years, like Latin and Greek, to help distinguish different spelling techniques used by each.
While Chakravarty’s dedication has earned her a number of accolades, it’s likely that none so far stand out in her mind quite like her trip to Maryland in May, where she traveled to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. As one of 519 students from across the nation, Chakravarty made it through the competition’s first three rounds but was ultimately ranked No. 42. Only the top 41 spellers made it to ESPN’s prime time.
Chakravarty’s family and friends back in Turlock cheered her on back home during those three rounds, tuning in to ESPN 3 to watch her successfully spell words like “Gallinazo” and “cathode.”
Despite all of the attention, Chakravarty remains grounded, her mother Sunita Saini said.
“She’s really humble, so she doesn’t think it’s a big deal,” Saini said.
While another trip to the Scripps bee is a possibility for Chakravarty, for now, she’s focused on becoming State champion. As for her future beyond spelling, it’s hard to believe the student finds time for anything else other than her love for letters, but she does. She’s an avid musician and plays the trumpet, piano and bass guitar. She’d like to major in music and medicine, hopefully one day becoming a forensic pathologist and playing in local symphonies.
But no matter what, becoming such a prolific speller as a result of hard work has prepared her for wherever life may take her.
“I’ve learned that studying hard pays off,” she said.