Cool and collected, Kavya Shivashankar wrote out every word on her palm and always ended with a smile. The 13-year-old Kansas girl saved the biggest smile for last, when she rattled off the letters to "Laodicean" to become the nation's spelling champion. The budding neurosurgeon outlasted 11 finalists tonight to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking home more than $40,000 in cash and prizes and the huge champion's trophy.
After spelling the winning word, which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics, Kavya got huge hugs from her father, mother, and little sister. Second place went to 12-year-old Tim Ruiter of Centreville, Va., the youngest finalist. He misspelled "maecenas," which means a cultural benefactor.