Pierson senior Brook Hartnett, Sag Harbor School Board member Dan’s son, worked for a month this summer as a page for the United States House of Representatives. Nominated by East End congressman Tim Bishop, Hartnett delves into his experiences in Washington from watching Massachusetts representative Barney Frank debate without notes to his classes in leadership at the House Page School.
The Page Program is highly competitive with a series of requirements. Could you explain what the application process is like?
The admissions process was lengthy. I gave recommendations from teachers. Then I had to write various essays on different topics. For example one topic was, “What would you say is the most influential thing in your life?” I wrote about my teachers and my school and how they influence how I have grown. I think the GPA requirement was 3.7.
About 70 kids are chosen [as pages] and they represent different states from Florida to Texas to California. You have to apply through your congressman to be put into the page pool, and then we had to go through the state. Then the page program picked us.
Before you applied for the Page Program, what was the extent of your political and/or government knowledge and experience? Do you find that you are pretty politically engaged?
I was pretty inexperienced. The most I had done was a Model UN class. I didn’t really have too much experience in terms of the governmental process. [But] I always have The New York Times on my phone and I am always checking the headlines. I subscribe to the UN wire, which sends out headlines of the daily events.
What prompted you to apply for the program?
I was looking at colleges and I found the Georgetown summer program. Through that I found the Page Program. It seemed definitely within reach for me and it sounded like a good opportunity, so I just threw in an application and hoped for the best.
I know that the House runs a Page School, especially for juniors who are attending the program during the school year. Did you also attend school although you were participating during a summer session?
Yes. They teach classes about leadership. The focus seemed to be on using this experience to propel you into a leadership role in the country. We had one-hour classes in international relations, leadership and government.
Could you take a reader through your average day as a congressional page?
We basically woke up for classes at 6 a.m. [After class at 10 a.m.] we went to the house floor and the floor boss assigned us our duties of the day. Runner pages went to the offices and brought down legislation to the house floor. As a statement page, after a congressman spoke we would say, “Sir, can we have your statement.” And we brought the statements to the clerk’s office. There were flag pages.
Once we were assigned our jobs we did them for about two to three hours. Then we had lunch and we would continue the job until about 5 p.m. At 5, they would tell us which group would stay late. There were five groups of about nine to 10 kids and one group would stay for the late session.
Which duty was your personal favorite?
Statement page. I looked forward to being on the House floor. I enjoyed seeing the debates go on. I had never even been to the Capital before, so I went from that to the floor.
Were most of the 70-some pages pretty politically active?
I would say yes. All those kids were pretty well informed. Some kids knew everything about their state and district. We would have some conversations at night about what we would do as leaders of the country and reforms we would like to pass.
As a page, what uniform did you have to wear and how did you feel about it?
It was slacks, a blazer, a long sleeve shirt, tie and black shoes, and a name tag. We also had a little page pin because everyone wears a pin, even congressmen have their pins. Even the secret service has pins. One congressman wore a bike pin.
I wasn’t thrilled about the uniform at first but as it goes on you grow attached to it. You are in it for eight to nine hours a day. After coming home, it’s weird not having to put it on at 6 a.m. every day.
As a page, you were in close proximity with congressmen and women for about a month. Did anything surprise you about these politicians or the political process?
I was more surprised by how slow the process is. Until you really experience it you don’t realize how slow things actually move [because of] the debates that go on and the voting procedure. Even if [a piece of legislation] goes through the House it still has to go to the senate.
Was there a congressperson that you particularly enjoyed watching debate?
Every time congressman Barney Frank spoke everyone was quiet. He commands so much respect. He brings up no notes, whereas most congressmen have piles of notes. He looks at one sheet of paper and just goes. Every time he spoke you just wanted to watch him.
Do you think your experience as a page has made you more politically aware or motivated?
Yes, definitely. I didn’t think before of politics as a possible career, but I learned that the stuff [congress members] do there is good. They are there to help you and to help make the country better.
You are a senior this school year. Do you know what you are going to major in?
Probably political science. I have always been interested in psychology and ultimately I want to go to law school.