U.S. Senate pages get firsthand look at nation’s business


Courtesy of Senate Photography Office

The U.S. Senate Page class of Fall 2021.

The only light came from the red digital clock which read something shortly before 2:00 a.m.

I was part of the previous day’s “early shift,” meaning that I had been sent back to my dorm just a few hours earlier for food and rest as the Senate worked its way through an overnight session in the rush to complete end-of-year business right before the annual Christmas recess in December 2021. 

Being awoken after too few hours of sleep had become the norm for me. So had quickly donning the daily uniform I wore to the U.S. Capitol building. What I had once found difficult was now second nature. I could tie my tie without opening my eyes.

By 2:15 a.m. two roommates and I were out the door and into the crisp December air, groggy on our walk of just a few blocks. By 2:30 a.m. we had passed through the airport-like security checkpoints, caught the Senate Subway from the Dirksen Senate Office Building to the Capitol, and replaced the pages who had made up the “late shift” from the previous day.

Tucker McPartlin (left), Will Nelson of North Dakota (center), and Charlie Goldberg of Illinois (right) prepare to return to an overnight session of the US Senate. (Tucker McPartlin)

I was one of more than a dozen “early shift” pages supporting the Democratic and Republican senators seated that morning on the rostrum, a stage-like structure at the front of the Senate Chamber. A marathon of votes continued as senators rushed to confirm dozens of ambassadors and other positions before adjourning for the year.

At the conclusion of each vote, handwritten tallies would be placed in our hands to deliver around the Capitol Complex. After the end of each speech, runs would have to be made to the offices of the Journal Clerks, Bill Clerks, and Parliamentarians. As staffers hurried to communicate with their bosses milling around on the Senate floor, our Page phone would buzz, sometimes calling us to the Cloakroom, where the real Senate business gets done.   

Eventually some senators left to catch early morning flights home. Others mingled with each other and with us.

Quick favorites among pages included Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is prone to gifting away a few thousand dollars of M&Ms each year; Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, a former astronaut who is widely regarded as having the strongest handshake in the Senate; Senator Tom Carper, beloved by pages for impromptu history quizzes on the Senate floor; and Senator Mazie Hirono who can always be counted on to talk music, reality television and college searches. 

Average days for pages start at about 5 a.m.

Pages wake up, piece together uniforms, finish the previous day’s homework, and hastily eat before classes start. Classes begin at 6:15 a.m. and extend to 9:45 a.m., a little over an hour before the Senate convenes.

The page school offers the most common classes taken by high school juniors around the country. All are considered honors classes, and many of them directly correlate with AP curricula. Daily classes run between 15 and 50 minutes each as the Senate schedule allows. 

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) takes a photo with the U.S. Senate Page class of Fall 2021. (Cory Booker)

Despite the rigors of classes and the demands of a changing schedule, pages are expected to maintain the high grades that helped get them admitted into the page program. In my experience, teachers were very understanding, and class sizes were small. It is also a long-standing school policy to delay or cancel homework, tests, and quizzes if the Senate stays in session late into the night. 

The daily duties of a page are relatively uncomplicated. Pages gather and deliver correspondence for senators and staff, make copies, provide water and lecterns, and, when not working on the Senate floor, complete homework in the “Senators Only” Lobby of the Senate. 

During the school year, pages must live in the Daniel Webster Hall Dormitory. Pages generally have three or four roommates representing geographic and political diversity. Classes take place in the basement of Daniel Webster Hall, where there is also a kitchen, computer lab, and laundry facility.  

During their free time on weekends and after work, pages can explore anywhere in the Washington, D.C., area accessible by public transportation. This includes inside the Capital Beltway and west of the Anacostia River, encompassing the National Mall, Georgetown, and historic areas of Northern Virginia. 

Pages must give up their cell phones, and Webster Hall does not have Internet access outside of school computers. This policy may seem strict at first, but I found that it gave me more time to focus on my schoolwork and to explore the city.  Pages do have access to shared landline phones in their room as well as email accounts that can be used to contact parents. 

Interested in applying to become a Senate page?

No matter where in the country you live, you can apply to be a page with any senator, but home state students are given preference. This makes New Hampshire special. New Hampshire is one of just three states—the others being New York, home to the Senate Majority Leader, and Kentucky, home to the Senate Minority Leader—that is guaranteed a page in every term.

President Joe Biden poses with the U.S. Senate Page class of Fall 2021. (Courtesy of White House Press Pool)

There are four terms in each year: two during the school year, each of about four months; and two during the summer, each of about four weeks. Students should apply for all sessions they are interested in to maximize chances of acceptance. 

Applications can be found on each senator’s website. New Hampshire’s two senators are Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

Applicants need to be a current or rising high school junior, submit two or three letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, or advisors, prepare a resume of extracurricular activities, maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above, and write an essay describing why you would like to be involved in the program. 

The experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk the Senate floor, observe American governance at the highest level, explore the Capitol Building and Washington, D.C., and to make lifelong friends. It is also a great way to add paid work experience, community service opportunities, extracurricular experience to college applications.