UB law student crowned Miss NY
Gabrielle Walter chases Miss America dream
Walking across a stage in a swimsuit and four-inch heels isn’t something that runs through the minds of most students in their last year of law school.
For Williamsville native and UB law student Gabrielle Walter, balancing work, school and competing in pageants was all worth the stress of being crowned this year’s Miss New York.
Walter is preparing to travel to Ocean City, NJ, to compete in the Miss America competition this September.
Walter’s career in pageants started during her senior year of high school. Walter participated in a scholarship program, Distinguished Young Women as the New York State representative.
“Some people assume that you have to start early, but I really hadn’t,” Walter said.
After attending nationals in Mobile, Alabama and winning scholarship money, she attended Canisius College for her undergraduate studies in broadcasting.
At Canisius, Walter focused on her schoolwork while girls from past competitions continued to compete in Miss America pageants. During her senior year, Miss Buffalo’s local competition returned from a short hiatus and Walter’s friends and family encouraged her to compete.
“A lot of my friends told me ‘we think you’d be really good at this, you have a lot of talent,’ so I thought to myself why not try it?” Walter said. “There were all the aspects of the Distinguished Young Women pageant plus a swimsuit contest, which I had never done so it was a new experience for me.”
Walter won runner-up and $2,500 in scholarship money and decided to keep competing. In August 2016, Walter competed for a local title Miss Bluebird, which entered her into the state level competition. In May 2016, Walter made it to the top ten contestants round for the Miss New York pageant.
Walter turned 24 this year, which is the age cap for the Miss America system. In February, Walter decided to try one more time to beat her personal best and make it into the top five contestants round.
“I made the top five and met my goal, so I told myself that whatever happened next would be extra,” Walter said. “From there they call the winners from fourth runner up to first place and I kept waiting to hear my name until it was me and Miss Queens left.”
Before the judges announce the winner, they tell the contestants to clap for the runner up, reinforcing the community’s support and bond of the contestants.
“I said to her ‘you’ve got this’ because you want to be encouraging to the other titleholders,” Walter said. “We call it a sisterhood, when you get to this level you know how hard you worked to get there and everyone else competing worked just as hard. In that moment, I didn’t think I was going to win.”
But she did.
Walter recalls being shocked, nervous and excited all at the same time.
“Hearing your name called is one of those things you never prepare for, because it’s a gamble,” Walter said. “Luckily all my stars aligned and everything worked out and now I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to represent NYS.”
All titleholders have a platform that involves community outreach. By connecting with participating Children’s Miracle Network sites across the state, Walter puts her platform to action by advocating for our nation’s youth.
Her program allows her to go in to schools and community organizations to talk with children about turning their dreams into realities. She runs workshops with kids and teaches them about setting goals and how to achieve them.
Mary Lutz, site director at the Emmet Belknap YWCA in Lockport says Walter’s visit and workshop with her group of students was an unforgettable experience.
Walter worked with fifth and sixth graders and gave a presentation about her platform and talked about her and their futures, while showing sash and crown.
“They all think they’re going to be famous sports players or actors or dancers and she brought them down to earth and said ‘ok what if that doesn’t happen,’” Lutz said. “After her presentation, the kids were a little more realistic and said, ‘maybe I’ll be a teacher, if this doesn’t work out.’”
But holding the Miss New York title and maintaining a balanced school and personal life isn’t always easy for Walter. She admits she’s a time management “freak,” but doesn't mind taking some time for herself to get away from the glitz and glam of the stage.
“I have a calendar where I plan everything out, there has to be a set time for everything, but you allow for flexibility,” Walter said. “Sometimes you do need those breaks and take time for yourself, I love running so I use that as an escape to really stay fit physically but also mentally.”
From her parents always rooting for her to random members of the community recognizing her, everything helps push her toward her ultimate goal of Miss America.
Paige Rider, a close friend of Walter, explains seeing her friend grow from a local titleholder to a state representative competing with the best in the country has been an amazing experience.
“Seeing her transform winning the Bluebird competition to Miss WNY and then NY, she’s really transformed and brought in her own style and judgment,” Rider said. “Now she knows what judges know for and caters to what they want and helps other contestants that might not have her experience.”
Rider feels while Walter is gaining local and state fame, it hasn’t gone to her head and she’s still the same friend she knew before winning her titles.
“Sometimes people’s egos get really big but she didn’t,” Rider said. “She’s still in disbelief that she won. Her confidence has grown and she really wants to be a role model for people and kids around her.”
Walter plans on finishing her last year of law school and entering the professional field. If she wins Miss America, she is required to take one year off and tour the nation while doing community outreach through her platform.
Regardless of what happens, Walter hopes to combine her love of legal studies and pageants to continue bettering herself and her community.
“At the end of the day this is just a pageant and a title, yes you can affect people but there’s so many other major things going on in the world,” Walter said. “You need to stay centered on the power that this title has to really make a powerful impact in the community and other people.”
Max Kalnitz is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org