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Island teen reflects on life as a Senate page
Brian Bruzzo spent part of his year as a page in the U.S. Senate.
Many people, especially high school students, don’t get the chance to see how the legislative branch of the federal government operates up close and personal.
Brian Bruzzo was one of those lucky few.
Bruzzo, a senior-to-be at Bainbridge High School, was one of 30 high school juniors nationwide to be selected this year to work as a page for the U.S. Senate. He recently returned to Bainbridge after spending most of his spring semester learning the ins and outs of the federal government in Washington, D.C.
Bruzzo is no stranger to the work of a page – he served as page for Sen. Phil Rockefeller for a week last summer – and was recommended by his office to apply for the national page program.
He applied through the offices of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), and to all nine U.S. Representatives from Washington, but he never thought he would be selected.
“To be honest, I had forgotten about it,” he said.
That changed last October when Sen. Murray’s office contacted him to set up an interview.
“It was totally out of the blue,” he said. “I never expected it to happen. When I saw the email I was completely astonished that they had gotten back to me.”
He was one of three finalists for the spot. After a phone interview with one of her staffers, he was selected.
It was a major boon to Bruzzo, a self-described political junkie. He recalled speaking at the 2008 caucus on Bainbridge of then Sen. Barack Obama and his presidential campaign.
“I’ve always found the whole (government) process very interesting that it’s about public speaking and argumentation – that’s a career that people can have,” said Bruzzo, who is a captain of the BHS debate team. “To me, it’s a dream come true... I love to argue.”
Pages often work 40-hour weeks dealing with the little things in the Senate, such as preparing the chamber for sessions, delivering correspondence and other legislative materials for senators, taking messages and many other duties. They are split by party, with the Democrats getting 16 and the Republicans 14.
The first week was spent learning about their duties and where everything was in the Capitol building. After that, it was full speed ahead.
When the Senate convenes for special situations, such as debating over the possible government shutdown in April, pages can work up to 60 hours a week.
The pages also attend classes every morning, starting at 6:15 a.m. Though their work in the Senate takes precedence over classwork, a page can also have up to two to three hours of homework a night, depending on how much class they get in the day.
Bruzzo said the hectic pace was welcomed by him and even forced him to make one big personal change.
“It was a very, very intense environment – like every second counted,” he said. “I have an issue with procrastination – that’s always been a hard thing for me. But in this program, I didn’t have the opportunity to procrastinate.”
He was also a quick study, being named a page leader after the first week. That meant he had to constantly stay on the floor and be held accountable for the other page’s actions.
While the work was hard, Bruzzo became familiar with many senators who he had only seen on the news, from talking with Vice President Joe Biden to eating dinner at Sen. Al Franken’s house.
He also got to see leaders from other countries and hear them give speeches. The pages also take tours of the city and the surrounding area – even getting to see areas that much of the public is not allowed to see,.Being around people from other places even helped Bruzzo, who identifies himself as a die-hard liberal, get a different perspective on topics that he would not get otherwise.
“I had never really interacted with southerners or Republicans that much,” he said. “But we agreed on a lot more things than I thought we’d agree on. It was cool to see everyone get along.”
Bruzzo also got to be in D.C. for an eventful few months: the Arab crisis; the federal budget; the resignation of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) after his affair with a campaign aide; the renewal of the Patriot Act; and the death of Osama bin Laden.
During the bin Laden event, the Senate was chaotic with everyone trying to get information about what happened, said Bruzzo. He was on the floor when the Senate voted 97-0 in a rare sit-down vote on a resolution to honor Navy SEAL Team 6 for its work.
“It’s rare to see more than a few senators on the floor at any given time,” he said. “But all senators were at their desks for the entire vote. It was very cool to see them all at their desks and see how they do for the entire time.”
Bruzzo also recalled how tense things were when talks were occurring over the federal budget as the threat of a shutdown loomed.
There was also a lot of pressure on the pages to balance work and school.
There were three different pages who had to go to the hospital for a nervous breakdown, a seizure and a panic attack. One page had to be sent to the mental ward, then home.
Bruzzo plans to work toward the Congressional Silver Medal his senior year. He is also planning to work on re-election campaigns for Murray and Cantwell.
After graduation, he hopes to parlay his experience into a spot at Georgetown University (his top choice), or George Washington University or American University if he cannot become a Hoya. Bruzzo also has plans to attend law school.
His ultimate career goal is to become a senator – an accomplishment that only six former pages have done.
“This has been an awesome experience that will help me a lot,” he said.