13-year-old Maui Boy, Son of Immigrants, to Represent Hawaii in Scripps National Spelling Bee

Simione Olakauatu, 13, is son of Tongan immigrants. He is a student at Lokelani Intermediate School in Hawaii. Olakauatu is one of the more than 200 participants in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. He will represent Hawaii.

Olakauatu, whose favorite subject is math, when asked why he entered the spelling bee, said, “Not that many people from my country go big, and it motivates me.” By his own testimony, Olakauatu says he has “always been an ‘A-B’ student.” “Growing up I didn’t know what having an ‘F’ feels like,” he said.

Mother, Ofa Olakauatu, a housekeeper at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach, testifies to her son’s studiousness: “It’s funny because every time if he goes to the kitchen or outside he also carries his laptop to study. Even when he eats and I say, ‘Can you leave your laptop,’ he cannot eat without it.”

Principal Francoise Bell has a similar testimony: “Simione has a great personality, a lot of positive energy. He’s just a bright light, even with everything going on this year. The kids, they’re not as energetic as they normally are, and he was always positive, always looking at the glass half-full. He’s just a pleasure to talk to and be around, and his family as well.”

Olakauatu’s goal is to follow in his big brother’s footsteps and play football at Lahainaluna High School.

To prepare for the national preliminaries, Olakauatu has been studying more than 4,000 words from the Scripps study guide, website, and app, in addition to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The final rounds of the national spelling bee will be held in July at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The winner gets $50,000.