First the students at Millard's Russell Middle School turned to their left. Ashley Chang, a Google marketing employee, told them to look to their right. The winner of Nebraska's Google Doodle contest was in this room, she said.
A din built in the crowd as Chang inched toward the reveal. As the students pounded on the floor, Abby Gilreath stood up.
On Friday, Abby, 12, was named Nebraska's winner of "Doodle 4 Google," a nationwide competition where K-12 students design artwork for a chance to appear on Google's search-engine page.
In the next round, online voters will determine five finalists by Feb. 22. Google will announce the winner and launch the design on March 21.
Google received more than 100,000 entries from across the nation.
This year's theme was "What makes me ... me," so Abby drew items that represented her favorite things: a softball glove, bicycle, treble clef, ballerina, paint brush and palette to spell "Google."
Abby has entered the contest for the past three years but never won. She realized this year might be different, though, after her parents found out the results a few weeks ago.
"They've been acting kind of, not suspicious, but excited for the past few days," she said.
While Abby's dad, Scott Gilreath, said he's more of a stick-figure guy, her mom, Ann, said she's loved art all her life and encouraged Abby from an early age when she showed talent.
Now her daughter draws any chance she gets, and her mom said more people are noticing.
"She'll draw a picture of a dog (in a restaurant), and the waitress will be like, 'Wow, that's awesome,'" her mom said.
Janet Newlin, Russell Middle School's general music teacher, said Abby is ambitious, hardworking and friendly to everybody. She's the kind of person who will put herself out there and try something new, she said.
Each piece of artwork was judged by the company's "Google Doodle" team and a panel of guest judges that included Alex Morgan, striker on the U.S. women's national soccer team; Stephen Curry, guard for the Golden State Warriors; and astronaut Yvonne Cagle.
Doodles were judged on artistic merit, creativity, the artist's unique approach and the expression of the contest's theme.
The winning student and four finalists will travel to Mountain View, California, to meet and workshop with Google's team of professional doodlers and see what it takes to launch a doodle on Google's home page.
The national winner will receive a $30,000 college scholarship. The student's school will receive a $50,000 Google for Education grant toward the establishment and improvement of a computer lab or technology program.
As a state winner, Abby received an Android tablet and a T-shirt with her doodle printed on it. Google also donated new microphones, sound mixers and other equipment to Russell Middle School's music department.
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