The U.S. House of Representatives recently decided to end it’s almost 200 year old page program. Four former high school pages react to the cut.
After nearly 200 years, the U.S. House of Representatives’ page program, which has served as a springboard for ambitious high school students, is .
Citing the program’s cost of $5 million and new technology that has left pages with little to do, Majority Leader John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that pages are “no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House.” There will be no incoming class this fall.
In the past, pages relayed messages and delivered packages to members of Congress. But now, documents are sent electronically and Representatives who carry their own Blackberrys don’t have to rely on pages to receive a note.
Yet former pages say that’s not reason enough to end the program, which has served as a crash-course in professionalism and time management, one that connects teenagers with diverse viewpoints. Some graduates of the program have gone into politics. For others, the experience simply fostered a better understanding of the people who shape Congress.
“The program was much, much more than carrying packages and letters,” said former page Chris Guizlo, now a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C.
Below, four former pages share their thoughts.
Before becoming a page in 2005, Casey Brown had a bad taste for politics. “The page program completely turned that around,” she said. “You gain appreciation for different perspectives and different viewpoints, and different political views especially.”
Now she knows Members of Congress are accessible. “Before I started the page program, I didn’t really think I could make a difference to my Congressman or woman,” the 22-year-old said.
It wasn’t just the interaction with people working in Congress that shaped her experience. “I learned a lot about my fellow pages and different demographics they come from,” she said. Living and working together forged a close bond between the pages, and she says they continue to be in touch through Facebook messages and reunions.
Her heart skipped a beat when she heard about the end of the program. “I don’t think its necessary for them to end the program at all,” she said. While electronic communication encroaches upon traditional page duties, she suggests adapting the program instead of shutting it down. “You really have to take a step back and look at the page program as a bridge between the public and Congress,” she says.
Elizabeth Brigham was a page in Spring 1999. Getting up at 6 a.m. to go to page school and working more than 40 hours per week “provided a ‘baptism by fire’ in understanding time management,” she wrote in an email. Debates on the House floor gave a glimpse of the personalities in Congress. “Going behind the C-SPAN lens was the most eye-opening experience overall,” she says. “When I left the program, I was forever changed.”
Back in her native St. Louis, Brigham continued to watch C-SPAN to see if she could still name all the Congressmen. She also became more involved in politics, running the youth volunteers for a Congressional campaign and working as a page at the 2000 Republican convention. During college, she returned for an internship with a Congressman, but left disappointed. She shifted her focus to marketing and now works as a senior product manager for the Disney parks in Los Angeles.
“I’m still a political junkie,” she says. “I’m very disappointed that future generations won’t have the opportunity to gain the life experiences that I did.”
When Ben Goodman wrote to his Congressman asking to become a page, he already knew he wanted to go into politics. He had been volunteering for Democratic campaigns since he was 10.
“I had always grown up as a nerd about this sort of thing,” he said. “To be on the floor of the House every day … was just incredible.”
One of his best friends worked on the Republican side (pages are assigned to the party of the Representative who sponsors them). “If she and I wanted to talk we’d have to physically cross the aisle that everyone always talks about crossing,” Goodman said, a valuable experience for him.
Goodman was a page in the summer of 2007, the year after amid reports that he had sent sexually explicit messages to a former page.
“A lot of members were for one reason or another uneasy about engaging with the pages,” Goodman recalls. Still, he said pages were able to build rapport with some Representatives. “They just liked having pages around,” he said. “We were probably the only folks on the Hill who weren’t asking something of them.”
Now a rising senior studying political science at the University of Maine, he disagrees with the reasoning for ending the page program. “I was disappointed that (Boehner and Pelosi) suggested the entire page program is obsolete now because of technology,” he said, especially because the independent review of the program wasn’t made public, and the large alumni base wasn’t involved. “I really think there’s a much more efficient way to do that sort of thing,” he said.
As a page on Sept. 11, 2001, Nicole Eickhoff experienced the shock of the attacks and the stress afterwards. She witnessed Representatives come together, but also the quick return to partisanship. Still, she said it was inspiring to see Congress act.
“You become more aware of how things work,” she said. It fostered an “understanding of our government in a deeper way than any government class ever would,” she says. Seeing the female Representatives on the floor struck a chord with the high schooler.
“As a young woman, I was very inspired by the women in Congress,” she said. Eickhoff now works as at the D.C. Women’s Business Center, where she helps women grow their business by offering training and resources.
“Physically carrying messages is no longer needed but that’s not the only thing we did,” Eickhoff said. The presence of the pages, supporters of Congress but too young to vote, brings a conscience to Members on the floor. “I think it gives them some responsibility and a reminder of what they’re doing there,” she said.
Eickhoff said she doesn’t understand why the program could not be adapted, as it has been in the nearly 200 years it’s existed. “You don’t go and park the horse” anymore, she said.
Jessica Binsch is a digital journalist living and working in Washington, D.C. She holds a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism and blogs at .