Suffolk’s Key Serves as Head Page

Published 8:52 pm Monday, February 16, 2009

Most kids would have a tough time explaining missing seven weeks of school. But Jackson Key, a freshman at Isle of Wight Academy, has a very good reason. The Suffolk resident is serving as head page for the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond.

The House of Delegates session opened Jan. 14 and runs through the end of this month. For Key and the other 35 pages chosen from throughout the state, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.

The page program invites 13- and 14-year-old students to assist the 100 delegates and their staffs during the regular General Assembly session. The pages collate bills and deliver documents throughout the Capitol complex. They also run errands and work in areas such as the speaker’s office, the bill room and the governor’s office five days a week.

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“Not many kids my age get this type of opportunity,” said Key, an honor roll student and son of James and Crystal Key of Chuckatuck. “Living away from home, going to work each day and being on the floor while bills are being debated… it’s pretty awesome. I get to experience the workings of government firsthand and see history made every day.”

Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-76th) nominated Key to be a page last year. He is thrilled that Speaker of the House William J. Howell selected Key to return as head male page for this year’s session. “Only a handful of students can be pages, and to be selected as head page is an honor,” Jones said.

Key admits that the workload can be demanding. The expectations and responsibilities of being a head page are much greater. But, he said, “It really comes down to leading by example.”

One of those responsibilities is making sure everyone gets to the mandatory study hall each night. The pages are excused from attending their schools during their service in the General Assembly. But that doesn’t mean they are exempt from studying, homework and tests.

Despite the busy schedule, Key said there’s still time for fun, too – such as domino-structure competitions, time set aside to swim in the hotel pool, a Super Bowl party sponsored by The Omni hotel staff, bowling and other activities. Pages are also allowed to eat in any restaurant within a two-block radius of the hotel.

“Ultimately, we [the pages] are responsible for ourselves… getting to work on time, doing our jobs, deciding where to eat dinner, getting our schoolwork done, when to goof off, and getting just enough sleep so that we can do it all over again the next day,” Key said.

And the worst part of being a head page? “Knowing that it will be over soon,” Key said. “I’ve got to know a lot of the delegates and staff. And then there’s all of the pages. We’re all very tight. These are friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Key, who served as Junior Student Council president at IWA and has attended leadership conferences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., said he could see himself voting on the House floor some day.

“That would be really cool. I love the atmosphere, the debating back and forth, just being in the chamber. Like Mr. [Bruce] Jamerson, the Clerk of the House of Delegates, said, ‘it gets into your blood.’”