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Western Springs eighth-grader finishes 5th in National Spelling Bee

McClure Junior High eighth-grader AliAbiad  (microphone) is introduced pep rally ComEd office Oak Brook as one three arestudents heading

McClure Junior High eighth-grader Alia Abiad (at microphone) is introduced at a pep rally at a ComEd office in Oak Brook as one of three area students heading to the May 27-29 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. | Chuck Fieldman/Sun-Times Media

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Winning words

These are the words Alia Abiad spelled correctly to get to the final round of the National Spelling Bee

• fete

• sultana

• concinnate

• misere

Updated: May 29, 2014 9:25PM

Alia Abiad put Western Springs on the map Thursday night.

The eighth-grader at McClure Junior High finished fifth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee outside Washington, D.C., and was the final girl remaining in the competition.

The word that eliminated her was irbis, which means a snow leopard. Alia asked for a definition and the origin of the word and was told told it had Mongolian roots. An announcer on the ESPN broadcast said it was a difficult word with “a unique and obscure etymology.”

Alia, the suburban Cook County spelling champion, was among 281 competitors at the National Spelling Bee, earning a place among 45 semifinalists on Wednesday.

After taking a computer test Wednesday evening that included vocabulary and spelling four words correctly in the semifinals, Alia was among a dozen spellers to make it to the final round Thursday. She received Twitter congratulations and encouragement from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Gov. Pat Quinn, whose Twitter account read “you make #IL proud, Alia.”

The action was being followed closely at McClure, where the announcement of her advancement to the finals elated faculty and students Thursday morning.

“We are over the moon at McClure!” said an exuberant Principal Dan Chick. “The entire building erupted when she was announced as a finalist. We couldn’t be more proud.”

Chick said McClure fans have been watching Alia’s progress every step of the way. Updates were provided through Assistant Principal Rachel Corrough, who was at the competition with Alia’s parents, Lorriane and Homer Abiad.

“The most impressive quality of this brilliant young lady is that she is one of the most humble, respectful and caring people you will ever meet,” Chick said.

This is Alia’s second trip to the national competition after tying for 19th place a year ago in the semifinal round.

While the final round can be nerve-wracking, Alia grinned with her third word, bunuelo, perhaps because of the definition of it as a semisweet cake fried in fat. But she quickly spelled it correctly.

“She’s never seen that word before but she loves Spanish,” the announcers said.

Before the bee, Alia said she was looking forward to sharing the sights and sounds of the nation’s capital with classmates and friends there on a school trip.

She plays the violin in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. According to the Scripps National Spelling Bee website, Alia said if she could meet anyone in the world, she would choose Pope Francis because she finds him inspiring and thinks he has made a positive impact on the world.

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