Junior Coleman Martinson was accepted into the Senate Page Program this year. He returned with excellent penmanship from having to hand-write his papers and with stories to share about the unforgettable experience of living inside American political life. Running through his account are themes of proximity, appearance, position and perspective.
By Coleman Martinson ’17
September 6, 2015
I was sitting with 29 other students who also had been accepted into the Senate Page Program. We were bombarded with seminars, lectures, and rules. Some rules made no sense. For example, we were not allowed to go downstairs to school, at 5:30 a.m., with wet hair.
The first night, my two other roommates and I (some rooms had six in a room), awkwardly sat on our beds and just stared at each other. We were about to have to live with two complete strangers for five months. When selecting our roommates, the staff tried to pair up different political parties and different regions from across the country. There were Pages from 22 states. We all had different accents and different words for the same thing, but somehow, in the course of the next five months, we would all manage to not kill one another. Instead, we shared an amazing experience.
September 8, 2015
The most excited yet nervous I had ever been in my entire life. Why? Perhaps it was because my every move was being broadcast live through C-SPAN 2 to the entire audience of 12 people watching—two of whom were my parents. My first job was to set up a senator to speak at her desk. I quickly retrieved her a desktop podium from the back lobby. As I approached the senator’s antique desk, I tripped, nearly falling on top of her. She just glanced at me, and, with a chuckle, said, “First day?”
September 24, 2015
One of the most historic days in our nation’s history, however, I bet a single person cannot tell me what happened. On that day, His Holiness Pope Francis addressed the United States Congress in the House Chamber, and then addressed the public on the National Mall. We were given seats right below the Speaker of the Houses’ balcony to see Pope Francis address the National Mall. From the balcony, he, with an entourage of party leaders, addressed—in Spanish, with a translator—and prayed for the American people.
People cheered at his every breath; women raised their children into the air, hoping that they would be blessed. Behind the Pope, we noticed that John Boehner was crying throughout the speech. The next day, he announced that he was stepping down from party leadership and as a member of Congress.
October 29, 2015
The excitement of Boehner’s resignation continued for the following weeks. Rumors emerged from the press that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy would be John Boehner’s next successor. Then, out of nowhere, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin was announced as the new candidate and voted in as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. A couple days before Paul Ryan was announced Speaker of the House; I had been delivering some documents to the House Cannon office building. As I was returning, Paul Ryan was walking towards me, jamming out to the music on his iPod Shuffle—something that he is known to do to avoid the press.
This was also the longest day of my life.
Besides the usual 4:45 a.m. wake-up and usual two hours of school, this day was different. I had the privilege of working the all-night shift into the wee hours of the morning. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) decided to postpone the scheduled 5:30 p.m. vote on October 29 to October 30 at 3 a.m. The government fiscal deadline was set to expire on Halloween, and they disapproved the budget deal.
All of us sleep-deprived, my friends and I tried to make the most of the experience. We wandered the halls of the empty Brumidi Corridor, the Crypt, and the Capitol Dome. Our cloakroom ordered us pizza. We ate in a room overlooking the Washington Monument with the Lincoln Memorial in the background. We were witnessing firsthand the American democracy at work. The United States Senate is the only deliberative body where more than a simple majority is needed to pass legislation. Senators from the minority party can block legislation by filibuster if it so chooses, since it is a body for equal representation. This was the American Democracy at work.
If there was a moment when Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan flew down from the sky riding a bald eagle with "The Star-Spangled Banner" playing in the background as fireworks were being shot off in the distance—this would have been it.
November 11, 2015
For Veterans Day, a small group of us, which just so happened to be all Republican Pages and one Democratic Page, decided to go to Arlington to see President Barak Obama speak. (They misspelled the President’s name in the program.) Many people are anti-Obama; however, seeing the President of the United States, whoever it may be, is a true honor.
We took our seats on the third row, right behind the Army band. After sitting in the historic Arlington National Memorial Amphitheater for nearly two hours, Vice President Biden took his seat along with his wife and invited guests. His animated character was clearly present as he was waving to everyone and making silly faces to little kids. After the ceremony, some little kid ran up to shake his hand and started jumping up and down to reach him, since he was higher up than everyone. The Secret Service, of course, told the kid to go away. Vice President Biden told them it was okay, and leaned over the rail, nearly falling, to shake his hand.
November 14, 2015
Some of the best moments I had were navigating the city with friends. We frequently went to Georgetown and Chinatown. We were required to be with at least one other person when leaving the dorm, and since we weren’t allowed to have our phones, we had to be experts at reading maps.
Before every adventure, you could find us in the library, printing out maps and highlighting ways to our destination. We had the whole World Wide Web to access while in the dorm, but the minute we stepped out of Webster Hall, we were living in the 1980s. We were given “safety cells” only to call the police or the dorm, but not to access the Internet. We had to learn the city’s Metro stops and which way went where.
Occasionally, we would end up on the wrong Metro train and get lost. If I had a dollar for every time we went the wrong way, I could have bought the Old Post Office building, which was sold to Donald Trump for $1.00.
December 2, 2015
Another drawback to not having our phones was how we received world news. This was the day the San Bernardino shootings occurred. Two days later, I learned of the news through a senator’s speech. We did not have access during the day to TV. At night, with all of our homework, we were too busy to watch.
January 12, 2016
The day finally came: we were about to see all three branches of the United States government in one room. We all lined up in the back of the Senate chamber for the procession to the House chamber. First to lead the body as a whole was Vice President (or President of the Senate) Joe Biden. He walked in, late as usual, and started talking and shaking hands with the lucky few at the front of the Page line.
As we walked over, through the rotunda and through statuary hall, the media watched our every move. We swung around to the back door and walked in behind the sitting Congressmen. We stood behind the elevated members of Congress, since their seats were raised a good three feet in front of us. As the Justices of the Supreme Court and Cabinet members entered the room, the audience roared. When the First Lady entered her private “box” with her entourage, everyone cheered. Everyone was waiting for the man of the hour to enter. We then heard the famous line: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.”
People whistled and cheered and screamed. A chant broke out: “Let’s go, fired up!” Time passed and the speech finally started after he made his way to the front. Can I tell you exactly what he said? No, it was an hour-long speech. Every now and then I would get a glimpse of the President and Speaker Ryan and Vice President Biden. At the end, the seeming endless applause started for one last time.
The President made his way from the podium to the “front” door, even though it was in the back of the room. Along the way, hands were shaken, papers were signed, and hugs were given. The President even signed the cast on someone’s broken arm. As the President made his way towards the crowd gathered at the back of the room, everyone pushed their way to the front. Finally, the President made his way to us. President Obama saw us, the swarm of youth, out of the corner of his eye, turned around and tried to shake as many hands as he could.
In that moment, the press above us took the picture with me in the background looking lost and confused with President Obama. There also is another photo, which was on the front page of the New York Times; you can see the top of my head in the corner. President Obama only shook four or five hands then ran out the door. I walked away, sad because I didn’t shake the President's hand.
As we rounded the corner, we were confronted by secret service agents, literally picking us up and moving us out of the way, for the President of the United States was about to walk right in front of us. There he was—wait, there was a problem. He was shaking hands with another group of people on the opposite side of us. I, along with everyone else, yelled, “Mr. President! Mr. President!”
Sure enough, he turned around and came over to us. With an inspiring smile, he said something along the lines of, “Hello, Pages! That speech I made was for your generation. I appreciate all of your hard work and would like to congratulate you guys. I hope your future is successful.” As I shook his hand, only one thought was in my mind: Why are his hands so soft? Literally, he has the softest hands I had ever shaken.
Throughout my time as a Page we were in such close proximity to these familiar faces. It became normal to see them slipping in and out of the spotlight. You look one way and they are standing there, you look another and they are on the TV screen. The first time I saw Senator John McCain (R-AZ), I nearly freaked out, but after working on the Senate Floor for nearly five months, it just became a normal thing.
January 22, 2016
While I was in D.C., I got to see a ton of white—and no, it was not just the Pope. Winter Storm Jonas was heading towards our nation’s capital, which just so happened to be the weekend in the middle of exams. That Friday we completed our science exam, and we were one fourth of the way done. Work was canceled that Friday so we could run to the stores to become prepared for the winter storm. After 4 p.m. on Friday, we were not allowed to leave until mid-Sunday, unless we were going to the neighboring park. Snowball fights, movie marathons, sledding on the Capitol grounds, and fire evacuations all occurred during the blizzard. Yes, on Saturday, there was a “fire.” A Page had accidentally set a piece of bread ablaze in the toaster, setting off the fire alarm.
When we evacuated, the blizzard was in full effect. This was no Alabama snowstorm; Jonas brought 29.5 inches of snow to the Capital. We all ran out of the building in our shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. One girl was taking a shower when the alarm went off. She threw on her clothes but she was soaking wet. Everyone in her room threw blankets and towels over her before she came outside. We all huddled in the street amid the kids from the playground in their winter gear on the outside. After about five minutes of being in Antarctica, someone had the idea to take us in the building next door; so, we all hopped over to the Senate Daycare center and piled inside for warmth.
January 28, 2016
Being a Page has its perks. We would sit on the stairs to the presiding officer’s desk and take part in the everyday conversations of the senators: “Where’d you get those boots, I love them.” “My grandson just got picked as quarterback for his high school football team” “Why does Alabama always win at football?”
Contrary to popular belief, the senators like each other. The media always distort the relationships between the two different parties. Majority leader Mitch McConnell was one of the first to visit Minority leader Harry Reid in the hospital after his accident in 2015. Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg, complete opposite ends of political scale, were travel buddies and would attend the opera together. There is a group of freshmen senators; Tim Scott (R-SC), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), and Hedi Heitkamp (D-ND); who gave a pizza party for all the pages together during a lunch break for the Senate.
Our congressman, Mo Brooks, and his wife, Martha, took me to lunch over on the house side to talk about the program. The two were very welcoming and wanted to make sure I felt like I was home while I was away. When Jon Stewart stopped by the Capitol, Pages got to meet him, and even took a picture with him (which is currently missing; no one knows where it is.) Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Al Franken (MN) also gave a pizza party for the Pages one night. Senator Enzi’s wife even brought us candy for Halloween, since we weren’t allowed to go out that night. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had a book-signing for all the Pages. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) hosted a Bible study for the Pages who wished to participate.
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) invited us to a Jell-O party in his office (apparently Jell-O is very popular in Utah). We ate lime Jell-O with whipped cream while asking him about his experience in the Senate. The Senate Chaplain, Dr. Barry Black, invited us to his holiday office party, where we ate food while looking out at the National Mall. Senator Enzi also invited us to his holiday cookie party for which he and his wife bake thousands of cookies for all of the Senate staff.
Some Pages were invited to the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for the real life Monuments Men, while others were invited to the unveiling of the bust of Vice President Dick Cheney. My shift got to attend the unveiling of the bust. President George W. Bush was in attendance, too—and of course Vice President Dick Cheney. We also were invited to the ceremony to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment. President Obama was in attendance, along with many powerful leaders from the Civil Rights era.
One of my favorite perks about being a Page was that we did not have to show our badges anywhere we went. We were already a walking ID in our signature blue suits made from 40% recycled water bottles, along with our royal blue nametags and our Page lapel pins. Every now and then, someone would come up to us and tell us about their Page life, because he or she, too, had served as a Page. We would hear stories of how they got to have dinner with Ronald Reagan or JFK—and we envied their experiences and wished we could have our graduation at the White House. Then again, I had lunch with my Congressman, we saw the Pope, shook hands with the President, met Jon Stewart, attended the Army/ Navy football game, had pizza with a SNL legend, toured the White House with all the Christmas decorations, and attended the State of the Union.
If only we could have been there for an election year because pages get to count the Electoral College and get to learn who the President is before everyone else. Now that I am no longer a Page, I have lost access to all the “secret” places in the Capitol: The back lobby where we did our homework; the bathroom with the mysterious Senate bath tubs; the Hall of Columns where we would complete etymology assignments on the history of the Capitol. All of my privileges are lost; however, they, along with all the friendships that were made, will be remembered.
Coleman Martinson is a Randolph lifer and a current junior. He is a volunteer and a tutor with the Youth Leadership Council, and has been elected as the Director of Grants for the 2016-17 school year. He is the Student Government Association Treasurer and a member of the golf and swim and dive teams. He has been very active in Model UN since 9th grade and is Head Delegate. Over the summer, he is a lifeguard and dive coach at Greenwyche Pool.