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The First Nine Words This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     My fingers tore open the big manila envelope and I pulled out a stack of papers. I look down and read, “Dear Ariana, We are pleased to inform you that ...” I didn’t need to read any further. At that moment, those nine words were the best in the English language.

They meant that I would serve as a legislative page for six weeks at the Vermont State House. A page is an eighth-grader who takes messages to the legislators. About 150 eighth-graders from all over the state apply, and only 30 are selected. After writing an application (and re-writing it, and re-writing it), requesting a letter from my principal confirming I had good grades and four other recommendations, I felt very pleased and relieved to have been chosen.

The pages are split into three sessions, and I was in the first. I went to school on Mondays and did the schoolwork from the rest of the week on weekends. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was ready.

***

On the morning of my first day, I was incredibly excited - after all, I’d been waiting to start for two months. I threw on my gray pants and white blouse, rushed through breakfast, stuffed a few things in my backpack and before I knew it, I was wearing a green blazer with gold buttons. A tag was attached to my blazer, with my name and town.

Then it was time for the rules and there were a lot. In fact, it took 45 minutes for the head doorkeeper to explain them to the ten of us. There were obvious ones like respecting the legislators, but also ideas I didn’t understand, like, “When in the House, don’t cut the lines.” Little did I know I’d learn much more than rules during the next six weeks.

When I was a page, the rest of my life fell away. The first day I was nervous, with my problems from home and school still weighing me down a little. I was happy, of course, since everything around me was very exciting, but I was also worried that I’d trip while trying to deliver a message or disappoint those who had selected me.

As the six weeks passed, though, every problem in my life seemed to freeze. I knew they were there, but I never thought or worried about them. I, without even realizing it, forgot about the frustrating parts of my life. Nothing could really bring me down. After the session ended I realized, I haven’t worried about that in a while. I found myself longing for the sense of security and joy I had while working as a page.

There were a lot of things that could have made me feel that way. The pages were incredibly accepting of each other and so different from the kids at school, even my closest friends. They didn’t care if my hair looked good, that wasn’t important to them. We’d share inside jokes as well as help each other with homework and just talk. I’d never made friends as quickly as I did with the other pages.

It was also a great opportunity to learn about government. Even though my dad has worked for the Vermont Supreme Court my whole life, I’d never really understood government. But here I was sitting right in the middle of the House of Representatives and the Senate, listening to arguments and resolutions. I even got to hear about some of the issues in our state that could affect me and other teens, including lowering the drinking age. It was extremely interesting and rewarding.

The last day of the session was difficult for me. I’d been dreading it since the day I read those nine words in my acceptance letter. It was time to leave all of my friends and the doorkeepers, everything I’d done for the last six weeks. Even giving up my blazer was difficult!

We were all given pins and certificates, and honored by the governor and senate. We received papers signed by the other pages, the doorkeepers, and everyone who had been part of our experience. But nothing was as moving as being honored in the House. The room was enormous and majestic, glowing with golds and reds. Standing by the podium as people clapped and smiled at us was a bittersweet moment I’ll never forget.

I knew it would be sad to leave the State House, but I thought that by now I’d be over it! But the sadness just won’t leave me. Whenever I see my name tag or the crazy stick figure sketch one of the pages made of me, I either feel like calling another page or crying, or both. Three things I hope for are that I always hold onto my memories as a page, that I never forget the nine friends I made, and that someday I reach the same point of infinite happiness I got from taking messages to legislators.

Many other states participate in this program, and I strongly recommend it to other teens. It’s a fun learning experience. To find out if this is an option for you, go to your state legislature’s website.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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ThisLitIsBananas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm

This is really cool. I don't know if we have pages here in Canada, but I'll definitely check it out! I also loved your first paragraph because I can TOTALLY relate. Last year I applied to an Arts high school for the Literary Arts program, and I waited for my letter for 2 weeks. When it finally came, I pulled out the top of the letter and read "Congratulations", and from that one word, I knew I was golden! :P

Great job! Also, could u check out some of my work? Thanks! :)

 
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