The Bottom Line
Published 8:32 am Sunday, June 22, 2008
Saying ‘goodbye’ to the Capitol one last time
By Tray Smith
When I returned home in late January, I left behind a group of pages, mostly Democrats, fortunate enough to serve throughout the entire academic year. Last week, that group, along with the infusion of pages that joined them for the second semester, graduated. Exhausted after nine months of service, those individuals now return home to begin the process of reintegrating into their communities. That process, a notoriously bad memory in the heads of former pages, requires rejoining traditional social circles, readapting to supervised family life, and departing from great friends and exciting routines. Once completed, that process will reduce to memories, kept alive through intransient friendships, the experience and service of the 2007 - 2008 House Page class, with which I was privileged to work.
Thus, the duties of the House’s messengers will be passed down to newly crowned pages for two summer terms, which will not likely change the infamous reputation of “summer House pages.” Those pages are disadvantaged by their short terms of service, which preclude them from mastering the skills of their trade before their departure. They are held to no academic standards and receive an unhealthy amount of free time, especially adjusting for the mischief that comes with being both young and a summertime resident of Washington, D.C. Summer pages are disdained by many school year pages who scorn at their lack of experience, challenge, and responsibility. Of course, they are still better off than Senate pages. Not that I’m biased against either.
After Congress’s rather lengthy August recess, a new class of pages will take over for a new school year, anxious about their future but enthralled by their opportunities. That group will be amazed by the speed at which their semester elapses, just as previous page classes grip with the fact that their appointments have already expired. Because it really does seem like just yesterday that I arrived in DC and attended page orientation with my parents, failed room inspection for the first time, saw the President present the Congressional Medal of Freedom to the Dali Lama, and embarrassed myself on the ice skating rink with a bunch of my friends.
Of course, time is a concept pages rarely notice as they busy themselves with the duties of transporting deliveries, flags, and bills (future laws) around the Capitol, answering phone calls in the cloakrooms, and collecting statements from Congressmen on the House floor. Those menial tasks, when conducted for Congress by seventeen year olds, inspire enough pride to make pages envy their replacements with sadness.
Four weeks ago, a friend and I returned to the Capitol to visit some of our close friends before they graduated, and we spent most of the weekend reminiscing about our time in the blue and gray uniforms. “Most of you can probably realize,” my friend warned,” that letting go is not easy.” If they couldn’t then, they surely can now, as they fill the airwaves with text messages reminding one another that survival, outside of D.C., is not impossible. Once nervous about their extended departure from home, the newly graduated pages are most anxious about returning to their families. Because hometown friends and family are always where you left them, Pageland friends and family are not. In fact, the greatest fear of graduated pages is the thought that, at seventeen, the peak of their life is behind them. However, that fear can be resolved through the realization that a multitude of House members and staffers were once pages and, regardless of their current titles, still are. Those staffers have successfully allowed their page experience to define their lives of public service. Emulating their example is the challenge of a graduated page.
But before any page can return to the Capitol for national service, he must return to his home town, and contribute the knowledge gained from his experience to that community. Such service commitments are obligations of the young people who have been most blessed by the great opportunities this country has to offer. Community service is also the venue through which pages can give back to the people responsible for their achievements: preachers, teachers, friends, and parents. It is such local exercises in leadership that prepare pages for eventual national governance. Hopefully, they will all be successful.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.