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Teen learns a lot as congressional page

This spring, Lauren LaVelle’s classes resembled those of a typical Turlock High junior. But nothing else about her school was typical at all.

Lauren spent the second semester of her junior year in Washington, D.C., as a student and congressional page. In her own words it was “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Her early-morning classes at the House Page School were held in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building, but that was only the beginning of her day. She got out of school at either 9 or 11:30 a.m., depending on if Congress was in session. Lauren spent the rest of her day as a page.

Though many apply to these highly desirable positions, only 60 high school juniors get the job. They perform all manner of tasks for our Congress members. Lauren was a runner between the three House buildings and the Capitol. She delivered statements and documents and also handled requests from constituents for flags to be flown. Other tasks included ringing the bells to call representatives to vote, and answering the phones in the cloakroom.

The job came with benefits, though. Her learning was no longer restricted to the classroom.

“I got to watch Congress in action, and because we were living in Washington D.C., on the weekends, we were able to absorb all that it has to offer,” she said.

Amazing speakers came to their school as well.

“We heard the Honorable John Lewis speak,” she said. “He is the only man still alive who spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington. I even got a picture with him.”

Other speakers included a Holocaust survivor and John Dau, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as depicted in the books and films about young people orphaned during the Sudanese civil war.

“It was fantastic being able to learn from other people’s experiences,” Lauren said.

While the experience was worth it, Lauren had to jump over a few hurdles first. Although pages work under the clerk of the House, they need a Congress member to sponsor them. Congressman George Radanovich agreed to be her sponsor.

What would she tell other students interested in becoming congressional pages?

“I would recommend this program to anyone who wants to experience something different and out of their comfort zone,” she said. “The experience challenged me socially, educationally and personally. In addition, it brought Congress and the federal government into perspective for me. I can now see how it all relates to me.”

While it didn’t change her views for the upcoming presidential election, she was able to see President Bush, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as they walked down an aisle, just two feet in front of her.

“There weren’t any bad parts,” she said.

After a second, Lauren thought again.

“Well, maybe the lack of sleep.”

For more information, contact your congressman or go to www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/98-758.pdf.

Nora Cassidy is a senior at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee’s Teens in the Newsroom Journalism program.

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