In the life of a congressional page: Cedar Falls junior shares his new experiences

ben olson congressional page

Earlier in the year The Tiger Hi-Line wrote a story about junior Ben Olson traveling to Washington, D.C., to finish out his school year as a congressional page.
Now that he has been there for a few months, we checked back with him and got the details on his experience in D.C. so far.

Q: What does a congressional page entail?

A: As a page, we do a lot of different jobs during the day. Most pages are runners, where we walk to different House office buildings and pick up or deliver messages, packages or flags to various offices, and there’s lots of walking involved in that. If you are on flag duty, you go down to the flag office and pick up packages of the American flag and deliver them to congressional offices so the members of Congress can fly them over the Capitol and send them back to their constituents. If you do statements, you sit on the floor while the members give speeches or debate bills, and after they are done talking, you walk over and pick up their statement and take it to the front desk where the statement is published in the daily record. If you get votes, you go down to an office while members vote on a bill and print off the results and deliver them to various offices. Those are the typical jobs; we basically assist in the everyday jobs that come up in the House.

Q: How is school in D.C.?

A: The page school is a lot different than CF. I feel like the school is more modeled after a college because the tests are only in essay format with rarely any multiple choice, so it’s something I’ve had to get used to. Since we work a part time job, we can’t get overloaded with homework, even though it seems like we do, so most of the work is reading or group projects. There aren’t any letter grades or class rankings, so it’s not competitive, but it can be challenging. The fact that our school is in the attic of the Library of Congress makes up for anything bad about it.

Q:Are you facing any challenges while being in D.C.?

A: The main challenge I am facing is adjusting because everything is brand new to me. I’ve had to get more backbone and become more independent and rely on myself more. It has been stressful, but I am finally starting to get into a routine. Overall, though, I never take for granted the behind the scenes access I get to the Capitol building.

Q: How did the big snow storm affect you?

A: In February there was nearly 30 inches of snow on the ground here, so we didn’t have school for about a week, which was fine with me because we don’t have to make up snow days here. I kind of feel bad for you guys back at home.

Q: Anything interesting you have experienced or that has this influenced your future?

A: Overall, I have been surprised about some things I’ve learned about the House. For instance, none of the members are required to be there when it is in session, so there might be a congressman giving a speech to two other people in the seats, but the rest of the room is empty, but when there is a vote, all members are required to attend, so a flood of people come rushing onto the floor all at once during votes. As a page, we only see the end result of the legislative process when the bills are debated on the floor, but before that the members of congress are assigned to committees that craft the bills. I honestly don’t know if I could be a Congressman because I wouldn’t even know where to start — they have to know things about all issues that come up, and they have to please everyone back at home. It would be challenging.

As far as a career, I’ve never thought about being a politician, but it is cool to see these people up close and see how they interact.

Q: Evaluate what you’ve been doing. How’s it going?

A: So far, it has been a really big adjustment moving from Iowa to D.C. I’m doing things that are totally new to me, such as living in a dorm with three other roomates, which is polar opposite of having my own room. I’ve also had to become more independent because I now have to do all of my own laundry and go out and buy my own food where at home my mom would do those things. Adjusting to all of that has been really hard, but I really think it’s preparing me for college life. Also, the school is pretty hard here, so I really have to budget my time wisely.

Q: What does your day consist of?

A: The weekdays here are pretty hectic. I wake up at 5 a.m., eat, change into my uniform and head to school in the Library of Congress by 6:45. Depending on the congressional schedule, we either have school until 9 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. After school, we head to the floor of the House of Reps and sign on either the Democratic or Republican side depending on where we work. We usually get off work at 5 p.m. and then come back to do homework.

A: Have you learned anything about government?

Q: I would say I have learned a lot about government so far. Not necessarily factual information, but just witnessing the daily operations first hand. It’s awesome to see Nancy Pelosi walk down the hall or being in the same room as the 435 members who you read or hear about. It’s a lot to take in. The most amazing thing so far was being able to go to Obama’s State of the Union address in January. It was only our third day; we got to stand in the back on the House floor and watch the speech and see all the senators and supreme court justices walk in. It was unbelieveable. Some people who had worked there for 30 years have never gotten invited to the speech, so it was incredible to be there.

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