By Katherine Bielawa Stamper
August 1, 2013
The Vermont State House bustled with activity on that Saturday morning in early December a few years ago. Thirty newly minted legislative pages, accompanied by parents, gathered in the lobby beneath regal portraits of former Vermont governors.
This group of eighth grade students, from across Vermont, were selected to work in Montpelier during the upcoming legislative session. Attending school on Mondays, they spent the balance of their weeks wandering the halls of the state capitol, delivering messages to legislators and tending numerous small administrative tasks. They met state senators and representatives. They interacted with lobbyists, school groups and security personnel. They boarded with a family in Montpelier, returning home on Fridays. They earned paychecks and a few first lines for their resumes.
My daughter spent the summer after seventh grade preparing her application. She met with an older friend who served as a page to seek advice. She reached out to Williston’s legislators for support. She asked a special teacher for a letter of recommendation and penned a lengthy, hand-written (a requirement) essay on why she wanted to serve as a page.
The acceptance letter arrived on a Saturday. It was Halloween. My husband and I were walking on the Burlington bike path when we received the breathless telephone call. I thought something was wrong and then I heard my daughter say, “I’m a page! I got it! I can’t believe it!”
Life offers up successes and disappointments. Not every student scores the lead in the school play, the varsity letter or the highest academic awards. After typical ups and downs of middle school, I was delighted—and grateful—my daughter was afforded the chance to actively work within the Vermont Legislature.
We celebrated at dinner that night. We discussed the importance of not gloating as multiple Williston students applied for one of the coveted spots. You can submit a super application and there’s always an element of luck that can impact outcomes. It was also time to thank folks who supported her through the application process.
Fast forward to the December orientation session. As families milled about waiting for the formal program to start, we walked up to a mother and daughter and introduced ourselves.
I asked the newly selected page, “Are you excited about working at the State House?”
Her nonchalant reply: “Actually, my dad is a legislator. I’m here all the time.” I respected her candor, but her reply left me feeling a little deflated.
After a few minutes, we gracefully extracted ourselves from that conversation and moved on to a new family, from Killington, who, like us, was thrilled to be there. Our daughter and Sam became fast friends and ended up living with the same family in Montpelier. Four years later, the girls are still in touch.
We later discussed the fellow page who seemed a little-less-than-excited about the amazing opportunity she was afforded. I pointed out that, someday, when my daughter landed on a college campus, there will be some students who are equally nonchalant about their acceptances and there will be others brimming with excitement, pinching themselves to see if it’s true. My advice: gravitate to folks who are excited about their opportunities.
Serving as a legislative page fostered an independence and confidence in my daughter while teaching her about Vermont politics. The experience prompted her to work on a political campaign and intern in Montpelier for two summers. She mentored younger Willistonians in their applications—repaying the kindness she was shown. Politics remains a strong interest area but, as she looks towards college, science might win out. Fortunately, these are not mutually exclusive topics!
With senior year looming and college visits progressing, my hope is that my daughter eventually lands at a college where she is pinching herself in disbelief, ready to seize the opportunity with gusto. Life is so much sweeter when we approach it not from expectation, but with appreciation.
For more information on the Vermont Legislative Page Program, visit www.leg.state.vt.us/misc/LegPagesApp.htm. Applications for the 2014 legislative session are due Oct. 3, 2013.