I sit here, thinking about being a part of history and watching it unfold: witnessing historic peace accords, attending nationally televised press conferences and rubbing elbows with the country's foremost elected officials.
Just wishful thinking?
Nah. From July 11 to Aug. 12, I served as one of 12 Republican House pages among the 66 congressional pages chosen for a summer session on Capitol Hill. (There are two short summer sessions for pages, one long one for the school year.)
Immediately after my red-eye flight from LAX to Washington Dulles, I checked into my dorm room at the O'Neill Office Building (named for former Speaker Tip O'Neill) and met the people with whom I would eat, live and hang out for the next five weeks.
On the first day, we traipsed to the Capitol for an orientation tour led by Doorkeeper Donald K. Anderson, who described in detail the objects, paintings, statues and rooms that had previously been familiar to me only through textbooks and guidebooks.
The two-block walk from my dorm to the Capitol was one that would eventually become commonplace. Yet I never ceased to be amazed at what I could encounter in the short distance--everything from press conferences on health care reform, the crime bill or campaign spending limits to protests on the same topics or other issues.
My excitement for Washington far outweighed the initial hesitation I had at reporting for work each morning in a regulation tie, white button-down shirt, gray skirt or pants and navy blazer.
Because our duties consisted mainly of delivering packages from one congressional building to another, I quickly learned to navigate the labyrinth of tunnels and subways beneath the House and Senate floors. Packages typically contained documents and written correspondence, but I delivered everything from a five-pound cantaloupe to a senator's tennis racket. Even though working hours were officially 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the pages typically stayed until House adjournment, sometimes as late as midnight or 1 a.m.
Besides getting used to my job, I had to adjust to new friends, a new environment and living on my own for the first time. Being forced to buy my own food (only dinner was provided at the Capitol coffee shop), wash my own clothes and fend for myself definitely made me more self-reliant.
In the beginning, the pages had preconceptions about one another based upon geographic regions--Californians were thought to be obsessed with beaches, movie stars and health food. But as we got to know one another, we became fast friends. On weekends, we went to movies at Union Station, dinner at Hard Rock or Planet Hollywood and shopping in Georgetown; or, for more educational fare, we toured museums and monuments.
Perhaps the greatest thing about working at the Capitol was the opportunity to meet the officials you usually only see on TV or in the newspaper. The frequent chance meetings allowed me to see those leaders as human beings rather than cultivated images. It was not unusual to overhear House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) talking health care in an elevator, to run into Atty. Gen. Janet Reno or Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) on the Capitol steps or to breakfast with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
One event I'll never forget was the historic peace conference July 26 between King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Yatzik Rabin of Israel. The warmth and goodwill generated by the two men's earnest plea for "lasting peace in the Middle East" brought the House Visitors' Gallery, the Press Gallery and the senators, congressmen, Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members to their feet with thunderous applause.
Afterward, several other pages and I got to meet Vice President Al Gore and shake his hand. Others I met were Oliver North (a candidate for the Senate from Virginia), Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, Speaker of the House Thomas Foley and, of course, my sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). I continue to see Royce at monthly dinner meetings of the Asian Pacific Congressional Advisory Council.
Witnessing debates on controversial topics such as the crime bill and health care reform, attending the Whitewater hearings and seeing daily press conferences and briefings unfold all added to the experience. Other things that I'll never forget: schlepping through the Smithsonian museums, seeing the serene beauty of the Lincoln Memorial at night, listening to the Air Force band from the Capitol steps and mastering that tricky Metro subway system.
Those five weeks on Capitol Hill taught me more about politics and government than any textbook could. They also honed my skills in leadership, diplomacy and public relations and forced me to take care of myself.
And now, when I switch on C-Span, I can reel off the names and states of those lawmakers on the screen. It is a skill I cherish--and know I share with all the other pages out there.
How to Get to Washington Without Winning Election
Interested in becoming a Congressional Page?
First, decide if you'd like to participate in one of two summer sessions or attend for an entire school year. School-year pages go to morning classes at the Page School to keep up with their high school studies and perform page duties in the afternoon.
You must be at least 16 years old at the time your appointment begins, be just entering or just completing your junior year and have a cumulative grade-point average of B or better in all major courses.
If you fit those requirements, request an application from your local congressman. (Addresses are in the phone book.) Because Orange County doesn't have a Democratic member of Congress, you would have to go outside of Orange County for a Democratic sponsor.
Completed applications for both summer or fall service must be returned in early spring (usually around April 1). Notification should arrive in early May.