This past summer, 70 students from across the country traveled to the nation's capital to be a part of the U.S. House of Representatives Page Program. For nearly 200 years, this program has employed teenagers to work in the House, transferring documents and messages between its members.
Park School senior Taylor Gillespie of Buffalo was one of the 70 employed this year by the House of Representatives -- and one of the last.
This August, Congress decided to terminate the page program for two reasons: 1) Due to technological advances, such as texting and email, the pages' duties are no longer needed. 2) The page program was extremely costly. According to Speaker of the House John Boehner's website, the page program exceeded $5 million each year.
Having a strong interest in public policy and the environment influenced Taylor to seek the page position. In order to be considered for the House of Representatives Page Program, an applicant must be a high school junior, age 16 or 17, and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Representatives are allowed to sponsor one or more candidates at a time. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, nominated Taylor to become a page.
Next, Taylor completed an application and obtained reference letters from her school, physician and Arthur O. Eve Jr., deputy elections commissioner.
Taylor was then interviewed by Community Liaison Jeff Sheridan from Slaughter's office. A committee in Washington makes the final decisions regarding who gets chosen to participate.
In Washington, the 70 pages were housed in a two-story dorm that Taylor said was "located in a residential neighborhood two blocks from the Capitol." She added that it was "within walking distance of several restaurants and shops."
Taylor said a typical day for a page began with "classes in political science, international relations, journalism and leadership at the Page School." After school was completed, their work began. This consisted of numerous jobs, including being a statement page, where Taylor and the other pages would collect statements from the representatives once they had finished speaking and delivering the statements to the clerks. Another job was to be a runner, which consisted of delivering documents and other items by traveling through an underground tunnel system that connects the Rayburn, Cannon and Longworth buildings to the Capitol.
"Navigating the tunnels was quicker, in the summer, a lot cooler," Taylor said.
The pages' shifts began at 9 a.m. and sometimes didn't end until 11 p.m.
Taylor said she enjoyed the six-week page program, with Aug. 1 standing out as her favorite day on the job. It was the day the debt ceiling vote was passed, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was severely injured last January in an attempted assassination, returned to the House.
As for the end of the page program, Taylor said, "I understand why the program ended due to the expense and the advancement of technology. However, I think that all high school students should have the opportunity to experience Washington, D.C., behind the scenes and to visit the many museums, monuments and memorials that are there."
Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued the following statement: "We have great appreciation for the unique role that pages have played in the history and traditions of the House of Representatives. This decision was not easy, but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House. Although the traditional mission of the page program has diminished, we will work with members of the House to carry on the tradition of engaging young people in the work of the Congress."
Emily DeRoo is a junior at Williamsville North High School.