“I trained so hard for this and then when I actually got it I was like... Now what?” Haley Gilbertson said.
Ten women will step on stage at Norton Auditorium Jan. 26 in front of hundreds of students and members of the community while Miss UNA, Gilbertson, will pass on her title to the next Miss UNA.
As Miss UNA’s year is ending, many people are still unaware of just how much responsibility comes with the title. The Flor-Ala had the chance to sit down with Gilbertson and get a glimpse into how she does it all.
Some of Miss UNA’s many duties include, hosting Step Sing, Light the Fountain, service days, representing UNA at the Miss Alabama competition and Homecoming.
“You want to know what my first big duty was as Miss UNA?” Gilbertson asked. “Step Sing. I was sick as a dog. I had to perform my talent, a jazz dance, and it was not the best. I kind of messed up. But it ended up being a really fun experience even though my circumstances weren’t the best.”
She continued to explain what she learned from that first event.
“It’s kind of funny because when I first got crowned I was still trying to figure out how to do these appearances and be Miss UNA and it’s kind of like diving in head first.” Gilbertson said. “It’s funny to talk about now but it was such an intimidating thing at first.”
Although Gilbertson was new to her Miss UNA title, she was not so new to the pageant world.
“I started dancing when I was three and my dance instructor, Dana Jacobs, always wanted me to get involved in the Miss Alabama and Miss America system,” Gilbertson said. “There is actually a teen program of Miss Alabama she wanted me to do but I just felt like I didn’t have the confidence to do it yet. She would always take me to watch the Miss Alabama pageants and I remember watching those girls and they were so poised and put together and I remember thinking, ‘That’s not going to be me.’”
Both Jacobs and Gilbertson’s mom, Gina Gilbertson, always encouraged her to try pageants. As soon as she was old enough, she competed in a preliminary teen pageant.
Gilbertson came to UNA as a freshman in 2015. She was a bit reluctant at first, but she competed in Miss UNA 2016 anyway. When she came back for her sophomore year, she felt something calling her back to the stage again.
“In (2017) I actually began to train a whole lot,” Gilbertson said. “I started seeing an interview coach and I got physical training, my dad actually trains me and I just really became invested and wanted to be more confident in doing it.”
Gilbertson received the title of First Alternate in 2017 and won Miss UNA in 2018.
Like all the other women who compete in Miss UNA, Gilbertson is a college student who works and studies for a degree. Since her time on campus she has held a job and become active in organizations on campus and in the community.
Every year Miss UNA raises awareness for a cause that she feels passionate about. Gilbertson’s platform was originally focused on diabetes. She still cares about her original platform and finds it important. However, she eventually felt the need to do something that emphasizes literature, poetry and similar creative means.
“It’s called Words in Motion. When I tell people that I’m an English Literature major I’ve noticed that over time some people think of that as such a bore. I want to bring back the joy in it. It kind of seems like a taboo thing for people to enjoy or be involved in.”
Miss UNA’s work for her platform does not end after she is crowned.
“I’ve been able to volunteer at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. I got to do some poetry workshops and even read some of my own work at open mic nights and talk to people about my platform,” she said. “Eventually I want to raise money for libraries across Alabama in lower income areas. It’s kind of an abstract platform but I want to continue to do more work with it and start speaking to classrooms and maybe even lead writing competitions and exercises.”
This is just a small portion of everything Miss UNA does. Gilbertson puts hard work into her platform as well as other opportunities that come her way. She said certain stereotypes often come with working in the pageant system.
“When you think about a pageant girl sometimes the words people associate with it aren’t always that nice,” Gilbertson said. “Women are complex, we do not have to be put into boxes or classified as pageant girls. That’s what Miss America 2.0 is really trying to stress to the public right now and that’s something I really wanted to emphasize in my year as Miss UNA. I wanted to show everyone that Miss UNA is authentic and quirky and might even mess up sometimes. I mean I’ve goofed up on the mic before but that’s okay because I’m human.”
Gilbertson said she found it important to let people know who she is and what she is passionate about it, not just what she wears.
“When I went to Miss Alabama I was a little bit intimidated because I was thinking, ‘Fifty really perfect and beautiful girls. Wow, that’s scary,’” Gilbertson said. “I first thought I didn’t fit into this stereotype and then I got to Miss Alabama and realized, none of us do. I found that they are all such hilarious, quirky and intelligent women.”
Miss Alabama is a big part of Miss UNA’s term each year. Even when classes ended, Gilbertson was still working. She spent much of May and June preparing to represent UNA at the Miss Alabama Pageant.
Gilbertson checked into the Miss Alabama pageant June 3, which was her 21st birthday.
“We stayed up late and then woke up at 6 a.m. I stayed very, very tired,” she said. “It’s almost like summer camp. You don’t really have your phones, you stay up late working but also make so many close friends. There are girls I still talk to almost every day. With everything going on bonds just begin to form. We all have common goals, we’re all going through similar things and can talk about it together. We get each other.”
When Gilbertson competed at the pageant last summer for the first time she said it was both very intricate and indescribable.
“It’s wild. It’s almost like a sporting event, ya know? People are cheering, someone has a picture of my head on a stick and there’s glow sticks and signs waving in the air. Standing behind a microphone and looking at all of that. It’s wild,” she said.
Gilbertson was also named Miss Marshall County 2019 and will represent that title at Miss Alabama 2019.
Aside from the excitement of Miss Alabama, Gilbertson said one of her favorite duties as Miss UNA was the Homecoming parade.
“The Homecoming parade was sweet as can be. People told me about past Miss UNA’s they know, whether it was their roommate or even someone in their family. It’s so cool to see how the whole community sort of cherishes the title of Miss UNA no matter who it is. To be able to see and experience that for myself gave me the biggest smile in the whole world. It’s a lot of excitement that day.”
Gilbertson said she wants the next Miss UNA to never forget the impact of their voice and with this position, they have the opportunity to bring light in.
“Remember that every morning when you wake up that you are Miss UNA rather you have that crown on or not,” she said. “With this title, you have the chance to make a difference, don’t forget that. Look at this position as a gift and you’ll see it differently. Every girl that walks out on that stage is so awesome. It takes so much courage to get up on that stage and it’s such a gift. I guess I’m about to become an alum of Miss UNA. I’ve never really thought about it that way.”
Miss UNA is definitely cherished throughout the community. Whomever is crowned next will become the 45th Miss UNA and will have the chance to be part of history.
“It proved to me that I can really do things and made me very mindful of the image that I’m sending out to the world,” she said. “Having the University of North Alabama sort of on your back is a lot. You want to be introspective and reflect a lot. I was always thinking, ‘What can I do and how am I going to represent my school and this title?’”
Every service event, every appearance and every interview she had, UNA was right there cheering her on. Although she may not be wearing a crown and sash to every event now, she is still and always will be Miss UNA.
“Miss UNA taught me how to love even harder. It sounds kind of cheesy and cliché, but to be Miss UNA, you have to love so hard. Every person you meet, every hug and every handshake you just have to stay grateful and know that you’re getting to love in a way that is so unique to anything you’ve ever done.”