With a smile on her face, Ananya Vinay was finally home. But her whirlwind week only continued.
After arriving at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, dozens of family friends, teachers, dignitaries and more were there to greet the 12-year-old Thursday night.
The Fugman Elementary sixth-grader, Fresno’s newest celebrity, returned after winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee on June 1. She had gone on a celebration tour that included national TV appearances and, earlier Thursday, ringing the bell on the New York Stock Exchange.
Two large banners, reading “Congratulations Ananya Vinay” and “Ananya is our spelling queen bee!” hailed the champion as she arrived with her parents and brother.
Sudarshan Kapoor, a professor at Fresno State, was among those on hand. He presented Ananya with an Indian/American flag pin, saying it represents unity and community pride in Ananya.
Kapoor said, “She is now a bridge between this culture and the Indian culture.”
Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino offered that Ananya put Fresno on the map. “She’s a great speller,” he said, “but she’s a beautiful child.”
Ken Engel, her fourth-grade teacher and spelling team adviser at Fugman, said he grew emotional waiting for Ananya to walk out to the airport lobby and meet her fans. He said she is an “excellent, dedicated, determined, driven” student who leads by example and loves to compete.
A lot of what she did in Washington, D.C. was all about the support from Fresno
Vinay Sreekumar, Ananya’s dad
U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, introduced himself as her congressman and told Ananya of how her championship was noted Wednesday on the House floor. His gift: lunch, at a time of Ananya and her family’s choosing.
“And,” Costa joked, at least partially, “you could maybe teach me how to spell.”
Vinay Sreekumar, Ananya’s dad, said it felt good to see the diverse groups that welcomed his daughter home. It was many of those same people, Sreekumar said, who helped Ananya become a champion.
“A lot of what she did in Washington, D.C., was all about the support from Fresno,” Sreekumar said. “She did her best.”
Mom Anupama Poliyedath said Ananya likely will not give up spelling any time soon because she has a deep love for language and words. She said Ananya knew that whether she lost or won, it was about the experience.
“For me she’s still my baby,” Poliyedath said, “but I’m glad she had the will and motivation to study regularly for a year.”
And the celebration isn’t done. In Fresno, nor statewide, even after Thursday was declared Ananya Vinay Day in a proclamation signed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom with Gov. Jerry Brown overseas.
Ananya will be honored Friday at her school, then it’s off to Los Angeles. “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” wants her as a guest for a show that will air that night.