Prep school speller wins state bee; heads to national competition in May

The word “habitué” is used to describe a person who may be “regularly found in or at a particular place or kind of place,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It’s a simple definition, but the word, pronounced ha-bi-cha-wā, is not commonly used and can be difficult to spell.

That is, unless you’re Benjamin St. Hilaire, a seventh-grader at St. John’s Prep School in Collegeville. He won the Multi-Region State Spelling Bee by spelling it correctly and moves on to the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 24-29.

“His dad, Tom, and I are incredibly proud of all of his hard work and determination,” said mom Lexi St. Hilaire. “His knack for spelling is taking us on an amazing and unforgettable journey.”

Benjamin made it through nine rounds of difficult words — including “ realgar,” “paraquat” and “curmudgeon” — against 19 other spellers in grades five through eight from throughout the state.

The students competed at the state level Feb. 5 in Fergus Falls.

“I was certainly not the only person impressed by the talents of these young students,” said Susan Ward, state spelling bee coordinator. “The state bee is very exciting, but it is also bittersweet because we can send only one speller to the National Bee. All 20 spellers would represent our state very well.”

Benjamin St. Hilaire poses with his trophy. (photo submitted)

To prepare for the event, many family members spent countless hours with Benjamin learning pronunciations, definitions, spellings and then quizzing him, Lexi said.

“He has always been an excellent speller and has a gift for seeing patterns in words and remembering them,” she said. “He likes to stump his family members with anagrams that he creates from words.”

Benjamin is also involved in orchestra and Knowledge Bowl at Prep. He and his family are members of St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud.

“Ben is a friendly student who is always surrounded by friends,” said Jill Pauly, director of communication for St. John’s Prep. “He is an easy-going person who is quick to volunteer in class. It’s exciting to see him in the spotlight. We are so proud of him!”

Joining him in Washington for the national bee will be his parents, his twin sister, Elizabeth, also a seventh-grader at Prep, and older brother, Will, a ninth-grader at the school.

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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