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As Virginia Senate page, Annandale teen gets inside view of legislative process

By Rachel S. Karas,

Waking up at 7:30 a.m., dressing in business-like clothes and fetching papers for mostly middle-aged men might not top the list of a 14-year-old’s favorite things.

Sarah Deible is an exception.

As a Virginia Senate page, the Annandale resident spent nine weeks in the trenches with legislators.

“I have a bit of an interest in politics, so I thought it’d be fun seeing what it’s like passing bills,” said Sarah, an eighth-
grader whose brother, Jack, is a 2008 alumnus of the page program.

Little did she know that she would be on the sidelines for one of the most contentious legislative sessions in recent memory, with senators debating hot-button issues that most middle-schoolers have barely thought about.

Points of contention included the battles over Virginia’s two-year, $85 billion budget and an abortion bill that would have required a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, an issue that drew national attention.

For Sarah, another memorable debate occurred over the Sunday-hunting ban, when some state lawmakers came down against hunting on “the day of the Lord.” Not exactly lunchroom chatter at Holmes Middle School in Alexandria, where Sarah is a student.

But it wasn’t all glamour and power plays during the session, which started Jan. 11. Sarah and the dozens of other Senate pages began their workday at 8:30 a.m. with a uniform inspection. Many hours were spent in the mailroom, on the chamber floor or running errands for senators, all the while following arcane procedures.

“It’s a bunch of rules and different stuff I’ve never really heard of,” Sarah said.

The rules included ones about appearance (no makeup), human contact (no hugging) and even note-taking (no doodling).

“The best part was probably hanging out at the hotel [in Richmond] in each other’s rooms or in the meeting room where everyone could go in,” Sarah said.

Sarah said she also learned something unexpected: Politicians have a sense of humor.

“I didn’t know they were as funny as they are,” Sarah said. “I thought they were really serious, but a lot of them are not serious at all.”

Sarah said Jeffrey L. McWaters (R-Virginia Beach) and William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin) were her favorite senators.

“They were always really funny and interactive with all the pages. They always got you up and moving instead of just sitting on the floor.”

Sarah, who plays lacrosse, soccer and volleyball, learned that teamwork is important on the Senate floor, too. And politeness proved to be a valuable quality.

“One of our major rules was to smile to everyone, be polite, hold doors, ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am,’ stuff like that,” Sarah said.

The pages were invited to return when the session reconvenes April 18, and Sarah said she is excited about returning. For now, she’s readjusting to life as a student — and tackling nine weeks’ worth of homework assignments.

Sarah said she isn’t necessarily interested in pursuing a career in politics — other interests include photography and marine biology — but she is grateful for the opportunity to have been a page.

“Before I was in the program, I didn’t really hear much about government,” Sarah said. Following politics is “important because it keeps everyone safe, all the bills that we pass. It’s something that we’re going to have to know when we’re older.”

Staff writer Maggie Fazeli Fard contributed to this report.

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