Another Page in History

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

It’s 4:55 on a Thursday morning when you hear a shrill ring pulse through the room. You rub your eyes groggily, praying that the noise will go away soon, when a dim light blinks on. Roommate #1 climbs out of her bed and finally, blessedly, turns the alarm off. At 5:10, a similar, albeit slightly more lyrical, noise rocks the room as Roommate #2 crawls out of her bunk and Roommate #3 turns on the glaring overhead lights. You slowly slump out of your beloved covers, rubbing your eyes and brushing your teeth to the tune of Roommates #4 and #5 arguing over whose turn it is to shower first. Are you at summer camp? You’re going home in a few days, right? Nah. You’ve been through this routine every day for three months, and you can look forward to repeating it for another two. And if you’re anything like me, you’re absolutely thrilled about it.

On my first day working in the Senate, I was more than a little bit awestruck, and perhaps I was lost in a politically-charged daydream when a cloakroom staff member explained exactly how exhausting this job would be. Sure, we can work up to sixty hours a week, but look, Senator Byrd’s old desk is only a few feet away! The rostrum looked exactly as it did in the movie Lincoln, despite the fact that Lincoln was filmed in the Virginia state capitol, the fact that the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in the Old Senate Chamber, and the fact that it would eventually be my job to explain this to excited tourists. In the midst of the excitement, I managed to miss the part about late shifts and early classes, the warnings that Pages often drink their weight in coffee. The next five months, I thought, are going to be incredible.

While the next five months were, in fact, incredible, I must admit that I was in for a surprise. Within a week, I learned that when the Wikipedia article on the US Senate Page School says that students have several hours of homework each night, it truly means that students have several hours of homework each night. I learned that the Senate can go into a quorum call for hours on end, and that sitting silently on the rostrum is a good time to ponder Senator Reid’s suggestion that the Twenty-eighth Amendment regulate campaign finance or Senator Heller’s speech against Senator Sanders’s VA bill. It is also a good time to discreetly pull out a set of flashcards and work on memorizing significant politicians from the Gilded Age. I learned the best ways to push a cart brimming with Congressional reports from office to office through a nine-story building (labyrinth?), and I learned the fastest ways to rush back to the chamber and work a forty-five minute vote that was scheduled to last only fifteen. I drank coffee with every meal and read my textbooks under the covers after lights-out, finally stumbling into slumber with a weary smile.

At the Senate Page Program, I learned to balance life and work…and school, roommates with truly bizarre sleep cycles, life without a cell phone, and relationships with people who lived 700 miles away. I learned my limits, I learned self-discipline, and I learned how incredible it feels to do what is difficult. I discovered the merit in working a long week for the simple chance to learn, to watch, and to listen. I may never be an “Important Person.” As a Page, I certainly wasn’t: I held doors, answered phones, and watched Senate politics unfold in respectful silence. But despite my lack of influence, I still felt satisfied, as if learning something new about H.R. 103 satisfied some unknown subliminal need. And each day, I trudged back to the dormitory with a little more knowledge, another funny story, and a little more joy.

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