A Transformative Experience

The responsibilities of pages in the Virginia General Assembly require, among many attributes, dedication, commitment and seriousness of purpose.
They report for duty at 8:30 a.m. each week day and serve until 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon on Friday with little down time and only a short break for lunch.
They live for the duration of the session at the Omni Hotel a quarter-mile from the Capitol and spend four evenings a week in a mandatory two-hour study hall because they’re expected to keep up with their school work and complete all assignments.
They dress formally – formally for a Middle Schooler, that is – in a navy blue blazer, white dress shirt and gray slacks (for guys), or skirt with stockings (for girls), quite a difference from the casual apparel kids 13 and 14 years old would likely wear were they not serving the Commonwealth.
For nine weeks, the experience is all-consuming. It’s rigorous and labor-intensive. It’s a challenging balancing act between school expectations and the civic duty they’ve sought and embraced. At the same time, it’s energizing, inspiring and downright fun. Service in the General Assembly, you might say, is the page’s ultimate adrenaline rush.
“It’s super cool because you’re on the front line, literally,” said Alexander Tan, a Collegiate 7th Grader who worked as a House of Delegates page during the 2020 General Assembly session. “You actually get to stay in the chamber and watch the lawmakers pass new laws. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Alexander became interested in the page program because his sister Amanda, a Collegiate sophomore, had the same singular opportunity two years ago.
He completed an online application, secured reference letters, developed a plan with his teachers to manage assignments and wrote a 300-word essay about why he wanted to serve.
“That’s really important,” he said of the latter requirement, “because you can tell a lot about a person by the way they write. I drafted my essay and had my parents and sister look it over. I talked to my English teacher. I refined it quite a bit before I submitted it.
“I really thought about the prompt. It came to me that I wanted to be a page because I love meeting new people. In the Virginia Capitol you meet to new people every day. I talked about forming connections and using my time meaningfully and getting the most I could out of the experience.”
Alexander and his fellow pages reported for duty Jan. 8 and served until the session ended March 7.
Their responsibilities included assisting members of the House, the House Clerk’s staff, and other legislative staffers by delivering documents, running errands, performing general office duties and pitching in when asked. Their specific assignments changed several times during the session enabling them to participate in a variety of activities.
“All legislators have learned to depend on the pages as an integral part of our support team,” said Rodney Willett, an ‘81 Collegiate graduate who represents the 73rd House District (Henrico County). “Our days on the floor could drag for hours. Alexander and his page colleagues were our most reliable connection back to our office staff as well as to the Senate chamber.
“So often, I would need to get bill sponsor signatures from other delegates and senators or retrieve a bill presentation folder from my office, but I was chained to my desk because of floor votes. The pages were my lifeline by being the only supporters who were allowed to come to my desk on the House floor and then take care of those needs.”  
While pages’ duties can sometimes seem routine and mundane, Alexander found his time, especially on the House floor, anything but.
“When you’re in that room and breathing the same air as lawmakers, it’s magical,” he said. “You get to watch everything happen. It’s definitely impactful.
“When you watch politics on TV, a lot of times all you see is the nasty stuff. If you watch political ads, a lot of people are saying mean things about the other candidate. From being a page, I learned that it’s different. Politicians might have different views, but they’re super-nice people. There’s definitely a sense of amity among them whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. It’s a great community to be part of.”
A highlight came midway through the session when Alexander met House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn in her office.
“I’d shot her an email,” he said. “I really wanted to meet her because I’m interested in applying to be head page next year.”
In the midst of a typically hectic day, she granted him a quick visit.
“She was down-to-earth, very genuine,” he said. “She’s a great person, and I look up to her. She’s the first female speaker in 400 years. She definitely worked hard for her position. She was very nice considering she was in such a high position. She’s really busy. The moment I left, somebody else went in. The fact that she was nice enough to meet with me shows a lot.”
Amidst the whirlwind days, Alexander stayed current with his assignments and excelled in his classes.
“Alexander’s a mature and together young man academically and otherwise,” said Nick Sberna, his advisor and English teacher. “He was very responsible about checking in with his teachers and following up on questions. He did a fantastic job. I’m not sure how one could do it any better.”
The page experience can be transformative and enlightening. It engenders thought and reflection. It heightens awareness and perspective.
“I definitely gained a lot,” Alexander said. “I’ve become more responsible. You’re away from home for nine weeks, making your own money, paying for your own food. I manage my money better. I pay close attention to the details of how much things cost. That’s a very useful skill. You have your own room. Nobody’s going to tell you to clean it up. There’s definitely a sense of independence that can’t be rivaled by any other experience.”