By Joe Kraus
If there was one word to describe Gabrielle Walter, it would be “dreamer.” Not only did her dream come true when she was named Miss New York earlier this year, but Walter has also helped children discover their own dreams through her DreamUp America program.
“It’s great to see these children really just sort of expand their limits of what they can do, and be inspired because I’m living out my dream,” Walter said during our interview on a sunny day on the campus of Canisius College. “I tell them, ‘If you go for it, if you work hard every day and make the most out of every opportunity, you’ll succeed.’”
Walter’s path began at a young age when she became a singer.
“My parents say I was basically born singing,” she joked. “The running joke is that growing up, I loved to watch Disney movies, so if I was in the grocery store with my mom, I would be singing, just throughout the grocery store, singing to everyone my songs.”
From there, Walter was a part of the school musicals at Williamsville East High School. In high school, Walter described herself as a perfectionist.
“I still am now but I can now let the little things go,” she added. “I’ve learned so much that there’s only so much you can control in life, that you can put forward in every new experience you’re learning from so it’s so important to be flexible and to always take risks in everything.”
After high school, Walter came to Canisius College for her undergraduate degree with the intentions of becoming a pediatrician.
“I loved working with kids,” she said. “I had an internship in high school, and I wanted to do pre-med here….I got into the program and my freshman year, I loved it. But then I realized that math and science weren’t really for me and all the effort that I was putting in, I wasn’t really enjoying it.”
So, she decided to become a journalism major with the goal of becoming a broadcaster. However, it was a trip to the Philippines in the summer before her junior year that crystallized what she wanted to do when she met an international human rights lawyer from Child’s Hope, a non-governmental organization.
“She talked about advocating for people who don’t necessarily have a voice,” Walter explained. “My idea was to be a broadcaster, to show people the real story behind certain things. But then I thought, ‘What if I could be a voice for these people and change their lives in a different way?’”
When she returned to campus, Walter began taking classes in the political science department. Around the time that she took the LSAT during her senior year, Walter entered the Miss Buffalo pageant at the encouragement of her friends and family.
“I entered, and my friends thought, ‘You would be great. There’s a talent, there’s an interview section’ so I did,” she said.
In 2015, she finished runner-up to former WKBW-TV personality Desiree Wiley and won a $2,500 scholarship. Last year, Walter won the Miss Bluebird title, another local pageant, and finished in the top ten at Miss New York. But this year, Walter came out on top, a moment she described as “magical.”
Following the Miss New York event, Walter had two months to prepare for Miss America, which was held in New York City earlier this month. For the talent portion, Walter sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from the musical “Carousel.” Walter chose the song because it connected to her platform, DreamUp America, and especially to children battling life-threatening illnesses.
“This song says, ‘Through these hard times, hold you head up high because you will never walk alone.’ And that message is for them,” she added.
When asked about what the Miss America pageant was like, Walter said it really wasn’t a difference when compared to Miss New York. “I didn’t prepare necessarily any differently. I went to New York to get the gown, and you just up the level of certain things,” she explained. “But it’s all really the same stuff… There is no mold for Miss America and who she needs to be. Just bringing yourself as an individual and what you have to offer to the table is exactly what they mean.”
While in New York City, Walter and the rest of the Miss America contestants volunteered at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. Walter spent the afternoon with a mom and her two children, coloring and singing and making memories.
“We were able to take just an afternoon away from that, without the crowns, without the glitz and the glamor,” she said. “It was so cool to see and to take time out of what we focused so much of our time on, which is the pageant. There’s so much more to life besides that and that we were able to serve together as Miss America.”
Walter is now finishing her third year of law school at the University of Buffalo. And while her career goals are to become a lawyer in New York City and argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, she is currently focused on these next ten months serving as Miss New York. Her goal is to visit all nine of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in New York State. But more importantly, she wants to leave a legacy.
“I really want to take these next ten months that I have left in the job and really create a legacy so that people will say, ‘Miss New York however-many-years-ago, she was someone to remember,’” she said.
When asked for her final advice for anyone persevering in life, Walter encourages people to take risks and be spontaneous.
“My advice for everyone in general is to try new things and to sort of take risks and go out of the box because you never know what you’re going to take away from that,” she said. “I took a risk in a local pageant and then I decided to come back because I enjoyed the experience and now I’m here.”
Gabrielle Walter is still dreaming and making accomplishments while hoping to make others dreams come true, too.