Standing only a few desks away from the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham), I watched as the N.C. General Assembly overrode the Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 2, now N.C. Session Law 2015-75, allowing magistrates, the people that perform weddings, to opt out of performing civil marriages if they have a religious opposition. The whole room fell silent as the Speaker of the House Tim Moore announced the outcome of the vote, and another one of my fellow pages was given the final copy of the vote to be filed. There were cameras and reporters in the chambers, and a growing number of news stations parked outside in the hallway. Everyone in the room could feel the significance of the vote.
In the 10 minutes that I witnessed this vote, what I learned in civics and other social studies classes throughout the years came to life before me.
…but even creating our own appropriations bills and running mock sessions did not satisfy my desire to see and feel how my government truly works
The state of North Carolina requires every student to take Civics and Economics, a course that gives a glimpse into our state and federal governments before they graduate. The curriculum includes how laws are made and passed, what must be done to get elected, and the differences between the three levels of government. In class we did projects that attempted to simulate the process that our legislators follow everyday, but even creating our own appropriations bills and running mock sessions did not satisfy my desire to see and feel how my government truly works.
Curious about politics and our state’s history, I went to my high school counselor for advice on internships. She told me about the N.C. General Assembly Page Program which gives high school students the chance to shadow and aid our legislators in Raleigh. To apply, each student must contact a representative asking for a sponsorship. A few simple forms are required, but once you have been sponsored all you have to do is wait to receive an official appointment package.
I saw representatives from across the aisle greet each other as friends.
The Page Program was one of my first experiences in a real work environment. From the strict dress codes to a real paycheck, I was surprised by how authentic the whole process was. My job as a page varied from hour to hour. My first day there, we were thrown into the action, working a session only 90 minutes after orientation ended. A page’s duty in the chamber could range from refilling water pitchers to passing notes between representatives. By the second day, we were in and out of committee meetings, connecting with representatives, assistants, and older interns. I listened as a room of citizens and legislators heatedly discussed whether or not to annex a lake into a small town, and I saw representatives from across the aisle greet each other as friends.
One of the most impressive and inspiring moments was when the House honored the late UNC basketball coach, Dean Smith. Several representatives shared their past experiences with the legend, and everything seemed to halt if just for half an hour.
Like many other instances I had throughout the week, I saw how our government come together and work to do something good for the state.
Despite the hectic pace of the week, I managed to grow very close with the other 18 high schoolers that had come from around the state to be in the program. Some stayed with host families, while others commuted to and from the legislative building. I met kids from the mountains and the beaches, each sharing a unique take on our government and their experiences with it. Several of us are already planning meet up with each other again.
Prior to the page program, our state government, in particular, felt like a foreign affair.
In almost every history class you take you discuss the systems that are in place to keep our nation afloat. Our state governments, however, are often brushed under the rug. While I knew the basics, I did not realize how in depth our state legislature went and the importance of their decisions.
This experience brought everything I learned in my civics class to life, and showed me the complex systems that are in place to keep me and the rest of the state safe and fairly represented.
I would highly recommend it to any high school student in the state because it is applicable to each and every one of our lives.