duPont eighth grader wins Duval County spelling bee

duPont eighth grader wins Duval County spelling bee
Julius and Tiffanie Graham with their son Julius and Alfred I. duPont Middle School Principal Marilyn Barnwell

Julius Graham overcomes adversity to become top speller in the county

As far as Julius Graham is concerned, his victory in the Duval County Spelling Bee came as the result of prayer.

An eighth grader at Alfred I. duPont Middle School, Graham realized he had studied a different list of words from the other contestants after he arrived at the contest. “To be honest, I had the wrong set of words because the other kids had been using a packet of words 25 pages long,” said the young San Jose resident. “I was panicking and thinking, ‘what am I going to do? I haven’t studied these words.’ I was worried at first, but in the end, I kept praying to God that I would win, and God answered my prayers. So, what I feel I can take away from this is that God is good and ‘ask and ye shall receive.’”

Graham was one of 26 contestants who competed in the city-wide, public school competition Feb. 4. He won the contest by successfully spelling the word “dubiously” after going more than 15 rounds against the city’s top spellers.

Placing second was Leah Files of James Weldon Johnson and third was Christopher Barrett of Kirby Smith Middle School. Graham was sure all was lost when he misspelled “jeepney” mistakenly using a ‘g’ instead of a ‘j’. However, when Files missed two words in a row and Graham correctly spelled dubiously, he knew he was the winner. “I was pretty excited to find that I won, especially after I spelled a word wrong,” he said.

By winning the county bee, Graham represented Duval County in the regional spelling bee in February.

Graham, who is the only member of his family to be fluent in both Spanish and English thanks to the dual language programs at San Jose Elementary and duPont Middle School, is used to overcoming obstacles. He was born with Erb’s Palsy, in his left arm, a disease that infects all the nerves from his shoulder to his hand. “I’ve had about three orthoscopic surgeries, and I will probably need another one,” he said.

Yet, his favorite class is duPont’s college-level SLS course, taught by Rachel Duff, that will award him his first college credits even before he arrives at high school. In addition to his studies as a dual-language student, he participates in duPont’s 5,000 Role Models of Excellence program for young men, is a member of the Junior Honor Society, and is the first student officer to serve in duPont’s Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). He also runs hurdles for the Dragon’s track and field team.

For high school, Graham said he plans to apply to Robert E. Lee High School’s Early College Program with the goal of eventually heading to college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he plans to study astrophysics.

“He’s overcome his specific disability. He just never gives up,” said duPont Principal Marilyn Barnwell. “He works really hard.”

In addition to being especially proud of Graham, Barnwell said having Duval County’s top speller in her ranks has been a boost to everyone at her school.

“It’s just an amazing experience, and I feel so honored and proud to be Julius’s principal as well as principal to the other students here,” she said. “It means a lot because it shines a spotlight on the work that we are doing here at duPont. We have a lot of wonderful and amazing programs that we have put into place over the last few years, and Julius really represents those programs that we offer. His winning the spelling bee brings more attention to what we have to offer for all our students. It gave us the perfect boost this year to continue our momentum to do the best that we can on behalf of our students. Our students are so energized now, and so are our teachers and parents.”

Graham agrees that winning the spelling bee is a highlight of his middle school career.

“There are a lot of kids who are as good or better than me in duPont, but I think it’s really cool that everyone says, ‘hey, you’re the spelling bee kid,’” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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