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Zaila Avant-garde spelling bee: What is Murraya?

The word is trending after being the historic winning word of the Scripps National Spelling Bee that Zaila Avant-garde won.

Zaila Avant-garde POOL/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday (July 8) night, after being postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee was held in front of a live audience at the Walt Disney World Resort and broadcast on ESPN for millions to bear witness to what ended up being a historic event after 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became the first Black American contestant to win the competition in its 90 year history.

Now, this morning (July 9), the winning word in the history-making spelling bee, Murraya, is trending. But what is it?

Murraya is a genus of citrus plant native to Southeast Asia, Australia, and Pacific Islands, but is specifically concentrated in China. This plant, more commonly known as orange jasmine or orange jessamine, is a tree with strong, leathery leaves and fragrant, white flowers blooming from the ends that bloom year-round. The small flowers are often used as remedies for headaches and other illnesses in traditional medicine and are even featured in some Southeast Asian dishes. Beyond its physical healing properties, Murraya is known to symbolize good luck and optimism, which is perfectly fitting for the history that the teen made yesterday.

After being given the word, the 14-year-old Louisiana native cheekily referenced Bill Murray as she tried to gain more clarity on how the word might be spelled. After a few chuckles from the judges, she began to spell the word. Then, she stopped and asked for the its linguistic origin. After receiving a response, Avant-garde went on to spell it correctly.

Immediately afterward, excitement visibly bloomed across her face as the judges told her she was right, and she secured her spot as the champion of the bee and was gifted a prize of $50,000. The teen soon began to jump for joy and dance in circles, clearly in elated by her accomplishment.

Outside of her obvious spelling talent, Avant-garde is described as an avid reader and talented basketball player. She amazingly holds multiple Guinness World Records for her dribbling abilities. Despite her extraordinary gifts, she is described as cool and collected, traits she clearly demonstrated as she remained composed on the competition stage — even at times when she began to struggle.

The bee winner has become an idol to young people everywhere and she says she specifically wants to be an inspiration to young Black people who may want to pursue spelling bees like her.

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