Zaila Avant-garde - Rising Star Award

Zaila Avant-garde wasn't focused on her place in history when she became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 93 editions of the competition. Instead, she was thinking about Bill Murray.

The 15-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, won the 2021 crown after correctly spelling “murraya” -- a type of tree -- that she associated with the famous comedian. Capturing the 2021 spelling title is only her latest entry in the history books. Avant-garde holds three basketball-related records in the Guinness Book of World Records: the most bounce juggles in one minute with four basketballs, the most basketball bounces in 30 seconds with four basketballs, and ties of the record for most basketballs dribbled at once.

Already the 15-year-old has been celebrated by the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, LeBron James and Bill Murray. She has made rounds on morning talk shows and on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Zaila hopes to one day play basketball at Harvard before a career at NASA or as a coach in the NBA.