"It was just incredible to have made the top 10," Gilbert said. "That was one of my goals before I went -- if I could just at least make the top 10 and I did. That was such an accomplishment because as I looked around I realized there were so many girls -- so many deserving and talented girls who did not make the top 10 and I was shocked. So I was very excited that I was able to accomplish that.
"I definitely would have to say meeting the girls [is what I enjoyed most]. For two weeks, you're spending all of your time with [about] 50 girls that you have never known before this time and you, of course, grow really close to each other. It's such an experience to do that and I hope so much that I'll be able to keep up the relationships with several of the girls that I've met."
From June 28 to 30, the 18-year-old daughter of Dr. Tom and Regina Gilbert competed in the 55th annual America's DYW National Finals at the Mobile Civic Center Theater in Mobile, Ala. She and the other contestants were evaluated in the areas of fitness (15 percent of overall score), interview (25 percent), scholastics (20 percent), self-expression (15 percent) and talent (25 percent).
Formerly known as America's Junior Miss scholarship program, America's DYW dispersed more than $130,000 in cash scholarships at the national contest. Gilbert's performance netted her a $2,500 cash scholarship, which increased her overall winnings to about $10,000.
"I think she did an absolutely amazing job," said Myra Hufstetler, chairman of the Distinguished Young Women of Bartow County program. "Her song was 'Astonishing' for talent and that's how we feel like she did. ... It just speaks to how well-rounded she is because she couldn't have had any low scores and been into that top 10.
"... We were all just so proud [of her]. We all felt before she went, she would be in the top 10. She was really good. We were so thrilled that she got there and we're just real proud of how she did. She did an amazing job. I think she represented Bartow County, Cartersville and Georgia extremely well."
Starting her journey with the Distinguished Young Women program by winning Bartow County's title in February 2011, Gilbert expressed her appreciation for the community's ongoing support of her efforts.
"I have just been so overwhelmed with how supportive and encouraging my community has been throughout the whole process and year," said Gilbert, who will attend the University of Oklahoma this fall, majoring in musical theater. "It's been amazing receiving all the letters and the people who came out for my send-off party before I left and all the messages I've been receiving on my phone and through Facebook. So thank you to everyone, who has just really been on my side and cheering me on, because it definitely helped me along the way."