Seven weeks of hotels, private government tours, session meetings and working elbow to elbow alongside the Commonwealth’s leadership.
It may sound like the life of a hard-fighting lobbyist or legislative insider; it was, however, the reality of Mckenzie Morgan, an eighth grader at Virginia Beach Middle School, selected to the Senate of Virginia Page/Messenger Program for the 2013 session of the General Assembly.
But Morgan had reasons all her own for applying for this daunting work experience.
“The most appealing thing was this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Morgan said. “It was getting a taste of being independent.”
So, she applied….and was accepted.
The celebration, however, did not last long.
After receiving her notebook chock full of mandatory rules she had to learn, including how to speak to Senators and how to dress, Morgan reported for duty the first week of January.
And just as quickly as she arrived, she was inundated with work.
She spent her days working from 8:15 a.m.to 5 p.m. either on the floor of the chamber — getting reports from Senators’ offices, making copies of legislation or even getting their lunch — or answering phones, pulling bills and collating documents at the Patrick Henry Building.
At night, she and the other pages were given exclusive access to some of Richmond’s biggest draws, such as dinner at the Governor’s Mansion, taking the underground tunnels that connect the buildings in Capitol Square and touring the Holocaust Museum in Richmond.
While it was frenzied, Morgan awed at how her textbook seemingly came to life each day.
“I learned a lot about how government works,” she said. “Everyone says in history class you learn how government works, but you don’t really know until you’re there and watching it happen.”
She spent seven weeks as page – living in a hotel with the 40 other students in the program.
Her parents would pick her up each Friday, and then drop her back off each Sunday.
“I was only at home for one day a week,” Morgan said. And that one day was filled with finishing assignments left to her by her teachers at Virginia Beach Middle. Her mom would pick up a packet of work from the school on Friday and drop it back – completed – on Monday.
“That’s basically what my weekend consisted of,” Morgan said with a laugh.
While in the program, students had a mandatory two-hour study hall each day, which was staffed with four tutors. However, students were expected to learn most of their material through independent study.
“It was much harder than I anticipated,” Morgan said. “No one was there to tell me how to do it; I had to figure it out on my own.”
It seems she figured it out pretty well: During her stint in Richmond, Morgan earned all A’s in her classes.
Her success both in the program and the classroom was no surprise to Virginia Beach Middle principal Dr. Sandi Brown.
“Mckenzie is a dedicated and focused student,” she said. “She approaches her studies with a seriousness of purpose and consistently pushes the boundaries of excellence. Her experience is a wonderful example to her fellow Seahawks. This is an exceptional opportunity to create awareness among our students of what an impact their involvement can have on our government.”
Morgan, for her part, said fellow students should absolutely apply for their shot to wear the page uniform.
“Do not hesitate,” she said. “I made some of my best friends I’ve ever had in my entire life. You will learn so much and you will grow so much.”
Compass Keeper Q&A:
Favorite Book? Safe Haven
Favorite President? George Washington
Favorite Teacher? Ms. Taylor, seventh-grade science teacher. She was a really fun teacher and I could go to her with anything.
Best study tip? Do not wait until the last night to cram everything in.
Favorite movie? The Notebook
*Do you know someone who should be featured as a Compass Keeper? Send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.