When they announced her name, Sarah Gustin said she had a hard time processing she had won.

In January, the 2015 Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate was crowned Miss Golden Belt, which qualified her to participate in the Miss Kansas Pageant in June in Pratt.

“It was truly unreal,” Gustin said of the win. “I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.”

For the opportunity to be crowned Miss Golden Belt, contestants took part in an evening gown and swimsuit competition, and performed a talent, which Gustin said was the biggest part of the judging. They additionally were required to partake in an interview so judges could understand contestants’ individual platforms and obtain a better understanding of presence and personality.

“I thought it would be really good experience because this pageant required me to have a platform and gave me the opportunity to speak out about things I’m passionate about,” Gustin said.

The significance of a platform is to challenge contestants to make a difference in their communities, according to Gustin. Her platform, she said, focused on domestic violence awareness — a cause she believes is important.

“I have always been very invested in domestic violence awareness because I think it doesn’t get enough attention because it’s very hard to talk about,” Gustin said. “It has always seemed like a natural fit for me.”

Besides working on her own platform, Gustin has become involved with various services and charities, and has worked to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

She said her time at TMP helped shape her into the community-oriented individual she is.

“I think I really got my start at TMP when they had their service hours we were required to do,” she said. “That gave me a good basis of having that strong sense of the importance of community.”

Gustin’s close friend, Fort Hays State University freshman and fellow TMP graduate Lexie Wasinger, said Gustin is a confident and level-headed individual who makes a great role model for young girls.

“I am so happy and so proud of her,” Wasinger said. “I cannot think of someone better to compete in Miss Kansas than Sarah.”

Having the opportunity to be a role model is something Gustin said is a dream come true.

“I’ve always looked up to my mom; she’s an amazing person and a great role model,” she said. “To be able to be that same person for someone else, especially at such a young age, makes me feel proud and humbled.”

A freshman at Kansas State University studying agricultural economics pre-law, Gustin said she will stay busy during the next few months as she prepares to compete in the upcoming Miss Kansas Pageant. She will spend time perfecting her talent, creating a positive public image and using social media to bring attention to great causes.

“I have a lot of plans, and I want to do whatever I can to help out and volunteer,” she said. “I want to use my crown to the best of my abilities, and I hope I’m able to make everyone proud.”

She is the daughter of Brent and Clare Gustin of Hays.