a day in a page's life {still + life}

 photo credit to Wes Notham, the LG's son

photo credit to Wes Notham, the LG's son

Wednesday, April 23, marked the reconvene of the General Assembly of Virginia. The GA votes on the Governor's vetoes of bills, and the pages come back to work for one more day. I can't believe when I met these pages back in January that we'd be as close as we are today. We all became really close because we live together and work together, and I thought I'd tell you about what it's like to be a page in the Senate of Virginia.

All of the pages live together in a hotel in downtown Richmond, about a 10 minute walk from the capitol. Every morning my alarm was set for 6AM. I was always worried about oversleeping, so I set the alarm on our hotel room clock, my phone and my roommate's phone. The alarm on my roommate's phone always went off first, waking us up. As soon as we were showered, dressed and ready to leave (usually around 7:15) we'd have to get checked out by Mr. and Mrs. Snow, our hotel chaperones. Sometimes this would mean waiting in a long line of kids before writing our names on a clipboard to say where we were going.

We had three options for breakfast. Arby's in the hotel. Starbuck's in the hotel, or the cafeteria in the General Assembly Building, called Merriwether's. For the first weeks or so, we'd go to Starbuck's, then a lot of the boys started going to Merriwether's, mostly because Starbuck's is so expensive.

The walk to the capitol takes about 10 minutes. At all times, we have to travel in a group of 4 or more, for safety. We usually dreaded these walks because we were there during a cold and snowy time of year. Most people entering the General Assembly Building have to pass through security, but the pages have access everywhere and the Capitol Police let us pass freely.

Once in the General Assembly Building, we descended a flight of stairs, hung up our coats in lockers (coats must always be worn if it's below 50ยบ), and entered the Page Room where there would be a schedule for the day written on a large white board. This schedule told us our jobs for the day and also listed the soup and sandwich of the day. Each page carried a notebook to write down all important information, including lunch. Often a senator would order lunch and would ask to know what the specials were.

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My job was the same every day because I was selected to be the page for the Lieutenant Governor and he was my priority every day. I reported to the LG's office at 9 each day, but would leave the Page Room, along with another page, at 8:45 in order to stop by the post office and collect any mail for the LG. On the way to his office I also had stop at the Capitol to pick up the Journal. The Journal was the list of bills and presentation's for the day's session. One Journal went to the LG and one to the Majority Leader. I only picked up the Journal for the LG. Inside were pink notes telling the LG who to call on for certain bills.

From there, we'd head to the Oliver Hill Building where the LG's office was located. I'd tap on the window to let one of the LG's aides know that we were there so he could admit us into the secure building from the frigid cold.

In the LG's office we had a wide range of jobs. Sometimes we'd make lists of important people in the Commonwealth or work on a map of iconic places in Virginia. This kind of work wasn't like homework that you get in school, but it actually helped the LG's office accomplish its goals for the Commonwealth.

 photo credit to Senate Page Program of VA

photo credit to Senate Page Program of VA

Because my job required me to assist the LG, I was on the floor of the Senate every day. This meant I had to eat lunch at 10:45 every morning! I did this because we never knew how long a floor session might last, and if we waited, we might never eat! One session lasted five hours! At 11:30, we'd head to the floor of the Senate. I was located on a bench next to the LG, so if he ever needed me during a session (which he rarely did) I was there to help.

When all the senators arrived on the floor (usually around noon), the LG gaveled in the session. Every day he would welcome visitors into the gallery. A green sheet was printed for each visitor that listed their name, occupation and organization (pages type these sheets). It also listed the senator who represented them. Early on the LG came to me and said that it was hard to find the senator's name on the sheet, so he asked me to write the name of the senator for each sheet in the upper right corner. This would make it easier to see.

I got into a system of writing down the names and delivering them to the bench, and we were pleased with how it worked. One day, the Deputy Clerk of the Senate asked what I was doing and I explained our system to him. Well, yesterday, when we returned, I delivered an introduction to the LG, and the Dept. Clerk turned to me and said, "Look what we did!" I saw they were now printing the sheets with the names typed up where I used to write them.

I was happy to see they had adopted our system. It truly made me feel like I had made my mark on the Senate of Virginia.

If a senator needed a page, they pressed a button that signaled that they wanted one. Since my responsibility was the LG, I did not take requests from other senators, like for lunch, unless they specifically asked. I always wished I could do this more because it's a bonus to get lunch for a senator since they tip you!

After the session ended (and they would last anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours ), we'd go back to the Page Room. I'd get a snack and then be a stand-by page. This meant that I'd only do a job if a senator's staff called the Page Room to ask for help. This happened all the time! Some things we might do would be answering phones, working the visitor's round-about, delivering mail to the governor's office and other duties. If we weren't on an assignment, we'd be hanging out and doing our homework.

There's so much more that happened after our work day that I'd like to share in detail, so I think I'll share it in another post. Thank you for letting me tell you about our program, and if you have any questions, please ask them in the comments. I'd love to answer them!

sine die {life}

Tomorrow Cal heads back to Richmond for what's called "reconvene," one day where the General Assembly votes on all of the Governor's vetoes. The Page Class of 2014 has been asked to come and work this one day and they're THRILLED. It's well past time for me to recount the story of their graduation day, so anticipation of this final day of service, I thought I'd share how it all ended for these guys.

When the Senate adjourns on the last day of the session, it does so sine die or "without day," which means that there is no set time and date for the body to reconvene. For us, Saturday, March 8 was all about Cal's graduation from the Senate Page Program, but it was also the last day of the General Assembly.

This meant that all the parents got to see a bit of the last session before the graduation ceremony.

For the pages, Saturday was a regular work morning, which meant that Cal went straight to the Lt. Governor's office after he checked in. Neel and I sneaked over to meet him there for a few minutes before heading to the Capitol and letting all of them get back to work.

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We all watched a normal session until one of the senators (quite understandably) objected to the number of senators on a commission compared the number of delegates (more delegates than senators seems to be a no-go). After a quick conference at the desk (photo 1), the Senate stood "at ease" while more and more senators gathered to confer. When it became clear that this discussion would take awhile, the Senate stepped away from the calendar to give time for the graduation ceremony.

The pages filed in and lined the room. After that, the Senators introduced each page's parents, and family by family, the Lt. Governor welcomed each of us. Last was Mr. and Mrs. Snow, pictured at the end. They were the House Parents who looked after our kids during the week. The entire room gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

After the introductions, The Pages' Resolution was read. Together with Mr. Finch, the pages drafted a lengthy resolution. It covered so many things from the session. It was funny and sweet by turn. They'd voted for one of the funnier senators to read it, he's a member of what's know as "The Raucous Caucus," and he gave it everything he had.

When it came time to vote, all the senators voted "NO." At each vote the Lt. Governor gives the senators time to "change their vote," and this time he spoke very slowly. You can see here that he's watching the screen to see all of the NO votes turn to YES.

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Mrs. Scharr, the Clerk of the Senate then spoke. Things went from raucous to moving in that moment, and she presented a loving tribute to the kids and the program. The director of the program, Mr. Finch, is called the Court of Appeals and she's considered the Supreme Court (oddly, she's the court of second chances), and she noted that this class had the fewest trips to the Supreme Court of any that had gone before.

She also mentioned a news report that had aired locally and had cast the program in a negative light. The whole thing was a bit of a boondoggle, really. The reporter caused all sorts of trouble while he was researching the story and the final report focused on the cost to the taxpayer, calling the Pages, "lunch-getters and door-holders." Mrs. Scharr (and everyone really) took great umbrage at that.

But you know what? The people rose up. In the comments on the online version of the story, the reporter was skewered, with one commenter saying that as a business owner in VA, he's proud his taxes go to this program which creates future leaders for our Commonwealth. So ha!

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After that, each of the kids were called up one by one to be handed their graduation certificates. When Cal came up for his, one of our local senators stage whispered, "Mr. President!" as a nod to Cal's time as president of the senate at the mock session the day before. Mrs. Scharr told each of the kids that there was a white envelope in their certificates, and they were not to open it until she said. Neel and I had been tipped off as to the contents, so we waited with much anticipation for this moment.

A $100 tip for each of the pages. That was fun.

At the very end of the festivities, Cal and another page from his old district, presented the LG with a check for $500 that the pages had raised for the children's hospital where the LG works. It was a really proud moment for everybody.

And then it was over. Jubilation mixed with tears, just an incredible sense of disbelief, I think. No one was ready for it to end. None of us. Mrs. Scharr had said to the kids right at the very end that they'd be coming back for reconvene, so that took some of the sting away. Cal has been counting down the days.