Seymour student shares experience working as U.S. Senate page


At just 16 years old, Luke Turner was an eyewitness to the history the country’s upper chamber of Congress makes each day.

Last semester, the Seymour High School junior served as one of 26 paid pages to serve the upper chamber of the U.S. Congress.

He was appointed by former Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and began work Sept. 3, 2018, and graduated through the program Jan. 25.

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It was an opportunity very few students get each year because pages are selected through an application and interview process to be nominated. Turner had applied a year in advance.

“There were essays, phone interviews and more, so it was almost like applying to college,” he said. “I felt it was good for college application preparation.”

One day, a package in the mail came to his house and had instructions on what he could expect because he had been chosen as a page.

As part of the program, pages are students and active employees of the Senate.

On Tuesday evening, Turner updated the Seymour Community School Corp. board of trustees on his experience. He thanked each trustee for giving him the opportunity and called for more civics education in the school corporation.

“I would like to see mandatory civics classes at every stage of education,” he said. “The only way we can unite as a community, state or country is if we know what’s going on.”

As a page, Turner and the other students prepared the senate chamber each day for its business. They also assisted senators from each state with whatever needs they had.

That preparation included a lot of footwork, running boxes of documents to other senators’ offices or other buildings throughout the capital.

“It’s (Senate) traditional, so people have to run papers all across the capital, so as pages, we run papers, boxes to different Senate offices and other buildings,” he said. “Anything the senator needs, we’re there for them.”

Being appointed by Donnelly, Turner’s primary focus was the Democratic caucus of the chamber.

“But I served all of the senators,” he said. “It wasn’t like if a Republican senator didn’t ask me for something, I wouldn’t do it for them.”

Turner and the other pages lived in Webster Hall, named after Sen. Daniel Webster, who appointed the first senate page in 1829.

While there, pages were not allowed to use their cellphones.

“We had a telephone in our room controlled by the Senate, but internet was banned at the dorm,” he said. “You really realize how distracting a phone can be when you get so much done without it.”

Turner said it was difficult for a few days not being able to send text messages or log onto social media.

Their school was located in the basement of the dorm.

Turner took American literature, American history, precalculus and physics and had a tutor for Spanish. School started at 5:30 a.m. when they would study and have a few hours of homework.

“I thought 6 a.m. swim practices were difficult,” he joked.

If the Senate did not come in until later, school would end at 9:45 a.m. If the session began at 9 a.m., classes would end at 7:45 a.m.

“It was definitely interesting to see how much we got done in such a short amount of time,” he said. “They didn’t cut us slack on workload, but if we worked at the Senate late, we’d get an extra day to complete an assignment.”

Shifts were split in half where the pages would either be done at 6 p.m. or be around until the Senate ended its business for the day.

“At least every other day, I knew I’d be out at 6 p.m., so I could work on homework,” he said. “I really figured out time management because, of course, I could visit the White House one day, but I’d still have a physics exam to study for, so I had to make priorities.”

The pages were entered into the congressional record Jan. 24, a day before the graduation, by Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida. Turner has a copy of the record.

“He gave us a little tribute,” he said.

“These pages worked incredibly hard, and we are grateful,” Rubio said. “We hope their experience here was rewarding. They should know that there are several members here serving on this side who once sat there.”

Rubio said he looked forward to the pages’ service to the country in the future.

While the entire experience included work and studying, it also provided Turner with surreal experiences, including meeting President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, each U.S. senator, cabinet officials and other high-ranking government officials.

One of the most memorable experiences Turner had was paying his respects to President George H.W. Bush, when he lied in state after his Nov. 30, 2018, death. Bush was the 41st president.

All of the senators who attended the funeral met on the Senate floor, and Turner’s job was to give the programs to the Democratic senators and walk behind everyone to the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Turner kept one of the programs as a memento.

When Turner got there, he was near cabinet officials and members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

After officials paid their respects, pages got the opportunity to do so, too.

“I got to pay my respects to the 41st president, and that was not something I was expecting to be able to do,” he said. “I was very honored to pay my respects.”

Trump greeted his group one day as he entered to visit the Senate.

“The vice president introduced us,” he said. “President Trump said hello and shared a few words with us, which was really neat.”

Pence also was around a few times. As president of the Senate, he was around for close votes in case of a tie or for more controversial ones.

“When I first got there, the senate was 51-49, so Vice President Pence was there quite a bit,” Turner said. “It was a little bit intimidating when you know the vice president is just 2 feet away from you.”

That gave the young Turner a few opportunities to approach the former governor of his home state, and the two met a few different times.

“That was always crazy because here I am speaking with the vice president of the United States, and not very many 16-year-olds get to do that,” he said.

Turner said speaking with Pence was one of the highlights because he took the opportunity to talk about Jackson County with him. That piqued Pence’s interest since he was born in Columbus in Bartholomew County.

“I remember his reaction when he found out I was from Seymour. He said, ‘Man, that is so cool,’” Turner said. “Someone like me, who is so interested in public service, will never forget that moment.”

Some other notable people Turner got to meet and speak with were senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, who all have jumped into a crowded field for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

Turner shared a story of when he was in the Senate chamber late one night and it was nearly empty as an issue about a conflict in Yemen was brought up. One of the only senators in the chamber was Sanders of Vermont, who had spearheaded the issue.

“We were getting a little tired, but Senator Sanders noticed all of us looking at him,” he said. “He came over, and we had about a 20- to 30-minute conversation with him.”

Turner said Sanders answered their questions and even asked where they were from and what they liked to do.

Halfway through that interaction, it dawned on Turner that he had a special opportunity. He said it was like that nearly each day.

“It seemed like there was always some surreal moment that made me question whether it was really happening or not,” he said.

Turner also spoke with Indiana Sen. Todd Young.

“He was very gracious,” he said.

Chuck Schumer gave speeches nearly every day on the floor, and Turner worked for him a lot.

Overall, being on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the pages got the opportunity to interact with each senator.

“I probably got the opportunity to speak in some manner or help in some manner every senator who is currently a member,” Turner said. “It’s cool that I had the opportunity to meet and serve the rest of the senate body.”

Turner also realized that each official was a human, which sometimes can get lost in the constant news cycle when political issues are covered.

“They speak about what they’re doing with their family,” he said. “I saw Sen. Chuck Schumer speak with Republican senators a lot about their grandchildren and such, but you just don’t see that on television.”

Some moments working in the chamber were historical but also contentious and difficult.

Turner saw the Kavanaugh hearings and experienced the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. He also worked during an election year.

The shutdown did not impact his own program, but many of the activities he worked with were not funded.

Turner have the chance to meet his idol, former Secretary of State John Kerry. He was carrying a box of documents upstairs through the Senate when the former senator and presidential candidate was standing nearby.

“I went up to him and shook his hand, and we spoke,” he said. “That was another cool experience.”

So what does Turner want to do with all of this experience?

“I just want to help people,” he said.

Maybe one day, he wants to get involved in politics, possibly as a campaign worker or even a candidate.

“Right now, I want to just work in public service,” he said.

With a major experience like this behind him, it looks as though he has a great start.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Luke Turner” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Luke Turner

Age: 16

Education: Junior at Seymour High School

Parents: Jess and Sara Turner

Sibling: Katie

Recent job: Served as a U.S. Senate page from Sept. 3, 2018, to Jan. 25. He was appointed by former Sen. Joe Donnelly.


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