Six Howard County high school seniors will serve as Maryland General Assembly pages during the 2023 legislative session, which kicks off in Annapolis Wednesday.
A Maryland tradition since 1970, the page program affords students a first-hand look at the democratic process as they pass memos, file papers and conduct research for two weeks during the 90-day legislative period, which ends April 10.
“Your access is pretty unprecedented,” said Renee Bos, Howard County’s page coordinator. “You get to see and hear and be a part of things that most people don’t ever get to see or hear or be a part of.”
This year’s Howard pages are Lynelle Essilfie (Reservoir High School), Cate Harris (Long Reach High School), Lauren Johnson (Hammond High School), Vedant Patel (Marriotts Ridge High School), Maya Santhanam (Centennial High School) and Oliver Song (Wilde Lake High School). Zachary Schulman of Glenelg Country School is an alternate.
“They’re all phenomenal,” Bos said. “It’s overwhelming when you sit down with their resumes, and you talk to them, and you learn about all of these amazing things they’re doing both in school and outside of school.”
Pages, who must be at least 16 years old, Maryland residents and current seniors at a Maryland high school, undergo a competitive selection process after being nominated by their respective schools. One hundred and seven pages and alternates, including 10 from Anne Arundel County, three from Carroll County and six from Harford County, were chosen for the 2023 session.
Howard’s pages say they’re excited to go behind-the-scenes at the General Assembly, meet their representatives and learn how local legislation is crafted.
“I want to see how all of these characters interact with each other and how it all plays out, whether it’s the committee hearings or the debate between legislators and stakeholders,” said Santhanam, 18, an Ellicott City resident who also serves as a fellow for state Sen. Katie Fry Hester, a Democrat representing parts of Carroll and Howard counties.
Santhanam, along with Essilfie, 17, of Laurel; Harris, 18, of Elkridge, and Song, 18, of Columbia, say they hope the experience will serve as a springboard for future careers in public policy or law.
“I really enjoy researching bus systems and multifamily housing,” said Harris, who envisions herself potentially working for the State Department of Education. “I hope [the page program] gets me a foot in the door if I come back to Maryland.”
Harris explained she became increasingly involved with politics in 2018, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when she organized a walkout at her middle school and participated in the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
Even though Patel, 17, is aiming for a career in medicine, he says it’s important for all voters to remain engaged and understand how politics affect change across all levels of society.
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“Most of the time, we’re very far removed from politics,” said Patel, the leader of Marriotts Ridge’s chess club and “It’s Academic” trivia team. “This was a really clear way to become directly involved.”
All pages receive a stipend of $55 per day to help defray expenses and can commute to Annapolis or live in lodging arranged by the state’s Page Office. For many of the pages, it will be their first time working with students from across the state, from Appalachia to the Eastern Shore.
“I’m looking forward to talking to other people with differing political views [and] different ethical and moral views,” said Song, Wilde Lake’s former student body president and the current president of the Howard County Association of Student Councils. “Even though we’re not the ones actually debating the legislation, it’s still cool to talk about it.”
Student pages are returning in person to Annapolis this year after the program was held online only in 2021 and 2022. Legislators say the students’ absence was felt in the State House.
“They add vibrancy to the chamber,” said Del. Courtney Watson, the Howard County delegation co-chair, whose first taste of the page program came in the early 1970s when her older brother participated. “They remind us about the next generation coming up and we have many opportunities to mentor them.”
Watson says the delegation is always scanning for Howard Countians on the list of weekly pages posted to the chamber door.
“It’s an invaluable experience for them,” she said. “It’s a blessing for us as well.”