At first, Lauren Bilski, a junior at Drexel University and 2012 Miss Philadelphia, thought it was her number that the announcer identified as the runner-up at the 2012 Miss Philadelphia scholarship competition March 31.
“It came down to me, contestant No. 19, and Caitlin Mahon, contestant No. 9. They announced the first runner-up was contestant 9, and I really thought I heard 19 as everyone was screaming and chanting,” Bilski said. “It took me a minute to realize I had actually won.”
Bilski had competed in the same pageant two years before and lost. Her win this year means that she will ultimately go on to compete in the 2012 Miss Pennsylvania pageant in May.
After Bilski and Mahon (a student at West Chester University), the second, third and fourth runners-up were Erica Szymanski, also a Drexel student; Lindsey Reichard, a student at Temple University; and Jordyn Skubish, a senior at William Tennent High School.
The pageant featured four segments: talent, swimwear, interview and eveningwear.
Bilski, who is a dual major in physical therapy and dance, was most nervous to perform a jazz number to the song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” during the talent portion of the competition.
“I actually fell. Right on my butt. Toward the very end of the number, I fell,” Bilski said. “I covered it up well, but I was still so upset because [dance] was sort of supposed to be my strength. That’s part of why I thought I had lost.”
Bilski has said her platform, helping military veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, was partly inspired by an experience she had when she was teaching dance. According to Bilski, when she was 14 years old, one of her dance students became ill with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
“I was really hurt and really confused about seeing what happened to her, and so I really wanted to help her. Her mom told me about this camp called Camp Cranium in Millville, Pa. It’s a one-week overnight summer camp for children with brain injuries,” Bilski was quoted as saying in a Drexel press release.
“I decided I’d go. I was sure there was something to be gained from the experience. ‘Something to be gained’ was an understatement. The experience changed my life.”
Bilski teaches dance classes at the camp, where she has been a counselor for the past two years.
“As Miss Philadelphia, I want to take those opportunities, the self-expression of dance, the community that those kids find at camp, and start nurturing them right here in Philly,” Bilski said. “My passion started with kids, and it’s expanding now. I want to be at both the [Veterans Affairs] with soldiers and with kids, talking about their experiences and helping them find the support in the community that they deserve.”
In the audience supporting Bilski on the night of her win was a small group of friends and family.
“Some of the contestants had groups of 30 people there for them, cheering and making noise. But when I won, my little group, I think, made enough noise for everyone,” Bilski said.
Bilski credited her education at Drexel as a major contributing factor to her win.
“I’ve absolutely had so many great opportunities because of Drexel,” Bilski said.
After spending time in Singapore for the annual Youth Festival last July, she was able to tell the judges about her experience abroad during the private interview.
“I think they really saw that I had learned so much from some of the international experiences that I’ve had because of Drexel, and I definitely credit Drexel as something that helped me win,” she said.
If Bilski wins the crown at the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, she will move on to compete in the 2012 Miss America competition later this year.