PARLIN—John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Senator, poured over 50 applications before selecting Nia Allen-Lee of Parlin, a senior at The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, as his Senate Page. Thus, she spent the second semester of her junior year inside the magnificent Capitol Building, feverishly supplying news reporters and politicians with legislation and savoring the occasional impromptu chats with United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the late United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Allen-Lee reported, “I worked under the first African-American President during his first 100 days in office as the first United States Senate Page from Massachusetts of African ancestry.”
Being thrust into such a political arena has never been a daunting experience for Allen-Lee, whose family has always encouraged community service and interest in issues across the political spectrum. A resident of Parlin and Boston, she works at Boston soup kitchens and YMCA. She has volunteered for the ABCD Head Start program in Boston, a comprehensive family development program that serves pregnant women, children from birth to age 5 and their families. In Plainfield, she tutors children at the city’s chapter of The Boys and Girls Club of America.
As a Senate Page, Allen-Lee followed a tradition of pages before her in the program that was established over 100 years ago. Most mornings would begin at 5 a.m. and some evenings would last past 9 p.m. All legislation or anything that needed to be circulated throughout the capitol building to reporters and politicians was supplied by the pages.
“I didn’t realize how important it was until my fellow clerk messed up and it impacted the whole system,” said Allen-Lee. She added that one of her best memories was experiencing the budget being passed. She was up until 2 a.m., running amendments to the budget throughout the Capitol… “everyone was trying to get their earmarks in,” she said.
Allen-Lee said she quickly learned from Senator Kerry, the late Senator Kennedy and Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) that “hard work, dedication and love for their country” are key ingredients in successfully representing the needs and ideals of the nation, its states and its people.
While sharing lunch with Senator Kerry, Allen-Lee was advised that in order to pursue a successful career in politics, she should not zero in on political science as a major, but stay active in her community and remain well-rounded by studying English, philosophy and engage in her love of the arts.
Allen-Lee also received powerful pearls of wisdom from Vice President Biden, who chatted casually with her about his mother and how he became Vice-President. The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) invited Allen-Lee to a gourmet catered Italian dinner.
Allen-Lee joked that the Senate Pages and House Pages were consistently at playful odds in the Capitol. One group claimed their responsibilities were far more challenging than the other’s, while one group was more anonymous in their presence throughout the capitol. Allen-Lee didn’t think she would have the chance, after serving as a Senate Page, to learn about life on “the other side of the Rotunda.”
However, during July, Allen-Lee was chosen by Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) to serve as a House Page. Congressman Lewis, she explained, had been deeply committed to civil rights issues and even marched, when he was a representative of Georgia, with Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr.
The four-week House Page experience was much more structured, said Allen-Lee.
She witnessed the exhausting work of a Congressman when she shadowed Mr. Lewis for a day, during which he met with student groups. On her last day of duty, she had the exhilarating experience and honor of meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and stood on her balcony where President Barack Obama was sworn into office. She also became reacquainted with many of the Senators who remembered her immediately, enjoyed another tour of the dome of the Capitol Building, met NASA Astronaut Lee Archambault at the Rayburn House Office Building, and had dinner with Senator Kerry in the Foreign Relations Room, where many dignitaries dine.
Few memories give her more pride and goose bumps that when Allen-Lee had the unforgettable honor of meeting President Obama. Allen-Lee and her friend, another Senate Page, tried to nudge their way through the pandemonium surrounding the president as he waded through a crowd of politicians and reporters. Noticing their struggle, a reporter from NBC News spotted Allen-Lee and her friend and pulled them up to the front of the line to see the Commander and Chief.
Allen-Lee recalls saying, “It’s nice to see you. You’re the President!”
“Really? I am?” the president quipped.
Allen-Lee said that President Obama kept his promise of chatting with her later before he left the Capitol Building.
At that moment, she had met the mentor who, she believes, will change the world and bring into it a wealth of opportunity, prosperity, and peace.
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