My name is Parker Scott Mortensen (colloquially, Parker Scott). Iʼm a simple man, really. Iʼm a junior in high school, and I like to hang out on the weekends, watch a good movie, and read a good book. So far, what separates me from anyone is that this past fall, I was given the unique chance to spend a semester working as a Page for the United States House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

Iʼve explained what Pages do to people hundreds of times, but I think itʼs still pretty unclear. Let me try one more time: House Pages are messengers for Congress - stationed on the floor of the House, we deliver messages and congressional documents among the three House Office Buildings - the Cannon, Longworth, and Rayburn buildings, all of which house Membersʼ offices. We act as a sort of delivery system between the buildings because no other concrete infrastructure exists for doing so - the capitol has relied on pages since its inception, making us somewhat important. Weʼre entrusted with lots of sensitive documents, including bills ready for committee or even the President. Itʼs serious business.

This means we spend most of our day in the Capitol building and specifically on the Floor of the House of Representatives. Little known fact: there are two desks in the northern corners of the House Floor where the pages are stationed. There, we await calls from Congressmenʼs offices or from Congressmen on the floor who need us to fetch something. Naturally, this positions us perfectly to witness all the activity on the floor. We get to see it all - Iʼve seen irate congressmen engage in debate right on the floor, staff scurrying trying to stop a vote, and the votes themselves. I donʼt think you can understand the magnitude of what actually takes place without seeing it. When it works, our legislative branch is one of the most awe-inspiring things Iʼve ever seen.

Since I returned to Brigham, I keep getting the question, “So what did you learn?” I know itʼs just something people say, but a question like that is so deep and poignant for me that it catches me off-guard. It would take me hours to tell you what a 5-month stay working for and in the nationʼs capitol has taught me, and to force that into a quick, 2-minute conversation is awkward, at best. The best I can do is relay my experiences, and hope what I learned emerges.

As Pages, we spend more time on the actual Floor of the House than almost any other person. Being there, and seeing what happens, has made me realize that I want a life full of meaningful moments that Iʼll never forget. I think first realized this the day I saw the Houseʼs initial vote on the Bailout Bill late September. On that day, before I realized the magnitude of what was happening, I was slouching lazily in a desk, twiddling with a pen while Congressmen scurried onto the Floor. When I heard the motion to vote and saw the walls light up with membersʼ names, I scrambled to get out of my chair, tripped, got up, and jogged over to the middle aisle where I could see the action. Iʼd seen many votes before, but not like this one. Votes usually annoy me because the Floor quickly becomes very crowded and loud, which very rudely interrupts my conversations. But votes like these are different. It was one of those times when you could tell that what was happening was going to affect people - real people. And as the “Nays” began to stack against the ““Yeas”, I poked my head into the Republican Cloakroom (de facto headquarters for Republicans while on the Floor) and saw the rest of the worldʼs reaction to what I was seeing: news anchors were freaking out, analysts were sensationalizing, and the stock market was failing. With one foot on the floor and one in the cloakroom, I witnessed cause and effect on a scale my small-town brain had never considered. The people in one room were causing what was happening on the TV in the other room. I realized then that I wanted my life to be as memorable as those few moments, and that that couldnʼt be achieved by satisfaction with the mundane.

This feeling came again when I attended Obamaʼs Inauguration. The absolute energy of the 2 million people (to put it in perspective, Utahʼ population is about 2.5 million) whoʼd cared enough to brave the Districtʼs intense cold for nearly seven hours electrified the entire event. In reality, the occasion was just a common ritual we as a country have practiced many times as a transfer of power, but the people, who believed in what was happening, were determined to make it remarkable. Iʼve never been to any other inauguration of any kind, but I donʼt think the experience was at all duplicable. It was inspiring, and I think thatʼs why Obama is our President today - whether heʼs the most qualified or the most skilled or the most anything is debatable, but the man can lead. Heʼs done it, he knows how to do it, and heʼs doing it. In my opinion, there is no higher-qualifying factor than the ability to inspire and lead effectively. I and everyone else seemed to feel that as he gave his inaugural speech.

I was in DC from September to the end of January. That time period poised me to see some transition in our government, specifically the turn of the new Congress session and the arrival of the freshman Congressmen, which was cute. Freshman Congressmen are like college-bound adolescents - so young and full of hope, so daring, so idealistic - which is good; a certain amount of naive idealism is required for representing the people. I remember when Aaron Shock, one of the youngest freshman Congressmen Iʼve ever seen (I think he was 27 or something. He was from Illinois) gave his first speech on the Floor. He was standing in the back, reading over his speech, looking nervous. When he finally gave it, you could tell he was trying not to mess up or let his voice shake. Finished, he walked by me and asked, “Did I do okay?” I smiled and nodded yes; it was actually pretty entertaining compared to many speeches you hear on the Floor. Youʼd be surprised how friendly the Congressmen are, especially to us. Another time, Iʼd offered to help the cloakroom ladies store some sodas when a Member I didnʼt recognize walked in and started chatting with a cloakroom manager. The man asked the Member how his interview on the Colbert Report went, and I realized that it was Jason Chaffetz, Utahʼs newest representative. They were talking about Chaffetzʼs leg-wrestling match with Colbert (a video highly worth watching, I might add. YouTube it). I remember he said, “You kind of just have to let [Colbert] do his thing, let him make his jokes.” Probably very true if you hope to escape with a shred of dignity.

People also always ask me about the people I met, like Jason Chaffetz, and itʼs true, I did see and meet a lot of political powerhouses. The most of these people I ever saw together at one time was during the joint session of the counting of the electoral ballots. A joint session of Congress is when the House and the Senate congregate on the Floor of the House, and the counting of the electoral ballots is when the Vice President and the Speaker of the House both tally the actual electoral votes and “officially” declare the next President. I say “officially” because the result doesnʼt change from the result on election night. If anything, itʼs just a tradition.

That day, Nearly every Member and Senator came into the very-crowded House Floor. Things were seriously jam-packed, and I was up to elbows with older Congressmen. I watched Nancy Pelosi and Dick Chenney count the votes, along with a few other Members and Senators (including Senator Bennett). Seeing them is somewhat surreal if you consider how far their influence reaches, but in the end they are just people. Elevating them above (or below) that, I found, is dangerous. Itʼs extremely easy for us to become detached from those we elect and think of them as soulless political machines, someone to blame all our problems on. I admit that this is the case for a handful of politicians, but, surprisingly, I found that nearly everyone I met was actually pretty human.

The day I returned to Brigham I realized the scope of my journey. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The world is a big place, and asking a 16 year old to journey across it into a fundamentally different and hopelessly pedantic setting can perhaps asking too much. The whole experience can be completely antithetical compared to what the intended outcome is, but I genuinely believe that the experience has already served me well. Iʼve gained perspective on my life and the surrounding world, and I find that invaluable in a time when one perspective dominates our way of thinking. No, Iʼm not a democrat, and Iʼm not a republican. Those are just words, and all they do is attach unwanted connotation. Iʼve learned Iʼm not here to invalidate the common conclusion, Iʼm here to supplement it. Iʼve never been about saying “no,” Iʼm here to say, “also…”

My most-asked question is, “Are you happy to be back in Utah and Brigham?”, and the answer is yes, I am. The life I lived in Washington DC is one completely different from the one I live here, and I never really found whether that life was for me. I donʼt feel completely content to reside here in Brigham the rest of my days, but the hectic antics of the District may be overkill. Right now, Iʼm content to finish high-school here in Brigham, and work on my writing. I am a simple man, after all.

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