As America's Distinguished Young Woman program nears, Mary Clayton Gilbert is looking to conquer new territory. If she were to win, the Cartersville resident -- who is the fourth Bartow County representative to claim the state title -- would be the first local participant to receive the national medallion.
"I am both nervous and excited. It's a lot of mixed feelings," Gilbert said. "There's times I can see the progress I've made in the past year and a half and I feel like I'm very prepared for nationals and I'm just so looking forward to it. At the same time there's other times where I'm like, 'Oh my goodness, there's going to be so many girls who are so talented and so wonderful. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to do anything in this competition.'
"So I am just trying to keep my eyes on the goal, keep looking to myself instead of comparing myself to other people and that's going to be definitely a goal of mine when I finally am in Mobile for two weeks before the competition starts. ... One of the best parts of the Distinguished Young Women is always getting to know the girls that are involved because, like I said, there's so many girls who are so similar to me, who are just like me and have the same goals and ambitions and will become lifelong friends. And that's one of the things that I loved about Georgia's Distinguished Young Woman last summer and I think I'm really going to look forward to this summer. But I'm also just looking forward to the overall experience."
From June 28 to 30, the 18-year-old daughter of Dr. Tom and Regina Gilbert will compete in the 55th annual America's DYW National Finals at the Mobile Civic Center Theater in Mobile, Ala. Along with the other contestants, she will be 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 will disperse more than $130,000 in cash scholarships at the national contest.
"Mary Clayton is really strong in interview skills," said Myra Hufstetler, chairman of the Distinguished Young Women of Bartow County program. "She's really good at answering any question. Nothing seems to catch her off guard. She does really well with any subject matter, even if it's controversial.
"She's well-versed in what's going on around her and she has strong opinions on them and speaks very well relaying what those opinions are. ... I do think she's going to do very well. I'll be very surprised if she doesn't."
This fall, Gilbert will be attending the University of Oklahoma, majoring in musical theater.
Her performing arts experience includes being an ensemble singer in "The Sound of Music" at The Fox Theatre, attending Interlochen Arts Camp Musical Theatre Workshop, capturing the lead role in The Grand Theatre's "Footloose," and being selected for American Ballet Theatre Intensive, Allstate Chorus, Steps of Faith's Advanced Company and an assistant director and choreographer for The Grand Theatre's camps.
Some of her past achievements include: director and producer of Advocates for Children's "Every Child's a Star" benefit, 4-H State Board officer, 4-H Northwest District president, Honor Roll at Living Science, 4-H Master Consumer Judging and first place in Georgia 4-H Project Achievement PA-Vocal.
"I've enjoyed how [the Distinguished Young Women program has] pushed me to really challenge myself and to do things that the average person isn't comfortable with," said Gilbert, whose talent for the national program will be singing "Astonishing" from the musical "Little Women." "Interviews are not something that people necessarily enjoy and the same with on-stage questions and a fitness routine, that's not one of those things that we love doing but it's really challenged me. And I've gotten to the point where I feel so comfortable and confident doing those things that it's really been able to benefit me in so many other areas of my life."
For more information about America's DYW and obtaining tickets to the finals, visit www.distinguishedyw.org. Prior to leaving for the competition on June 17, a send-off party will be held in her honor June 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Grand Theatre in Cartersville.