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Senior Sarah Bedford represented Gustine High at Girls State this summer.

Gustine High senior Sarah Bedford’s summer included a week spent representing her school and learning - often in a hands-on manner - how government works.

Bedford was the Gustine High delegate to the annual Girls State event, which is sponsored by the American Legion.

Motivational speakers, mock government proceedings and more are featured at the week-long event.

“I was a bit surprised,” she said when asked what it felt like to be chosen to represent her school. “I was interviewed for another program before this and didn’t get it. This was the first interview I went to where I wasn’t nervous, so maybe that’s what helped!”

Girls State proved to be an eye-opening experience for the 16-year-old Bedford, who is the daughter of Tracy and Don Bedford.

Government, and the processes involved, proved far more complex than she previously understood, Bedford shared.

When it came time for the mock elections, Bedford said she was amazed at just how much went into simply running for office. “I know this was only a small glimpse into actual government, so I can’t imagine the actual list and steps to follow,” she said.

Bedford ran for superintendent of the board of education in her mock election, and was appointed to positions in city, county and state governments as part of the Girls State exercises.

While the debates and discussions over issues was sometimes intense, Bedford said, they were also respectful of diverse opinions.

“I felt comfortable stating my beliefs there, more than I would anywhere else,” he commented.

The environment instilled in Bedford a greater interest in intellectual debates and being able to vote, while also building upon the appreciation she already had for politics due to talking about them with her dad.

Those in the same Girls State “city” as Bedford came to be her good friends. “I felt like I’ve known them for years,” she said. Although all the girls were different, she said, they also realized that they had more in common than they expected.

“The first day we all took a chance to talk about our hometown and about ourselves. The stories we shared made us all realize that even though we came from different places, we were all pretty similar. We were just as enthusiastic about our differences as we were about our similarities,” Bedford reflected.

The 2019 session left Bedford with many memories, one of the most noteworthy taking place on the last night. “My friends and I had a sleepover in my room,” she explained. “We all talked together like we’ve been friends forever, and it was so easy, and so meaningful. I haven’t had any experiences like it before.”

Bedford left the week feeling inspired. “The guest speakers made it clear that we shouldn’t let anything hold us back from pursuing what we love,” she shared. “Do what you want with your life, and if someone tries to tell you you can’t or tries to hinder your opportunities, create (an) environment where your success will grow!”

The experience, she added, was enriching.

“Girls State was one of the best experiences of my life, and it’s something I’ll cherish forever. It was absolutely humbling to be chosen,” Bedford commented. “I’d like to thank everyone involved, and all our veterans for everything they’ve done for our country.”