By Terry A. Venneberg, Senate ‘76
In January 1975, I came to Washington to be a Page. I was sponsored by Sen. Mike Gravel, (D-Alaska), who served from 1969 to 1981. I was a 14-year-old from Sitka, Alaska, who had been enamored of all things political for years prior to my appointment as a Page. I had no family connections to the political world; my selection was the result of having attended constituent meetings held by Sen. Gravel, attracting his attention as the wonky little kid who asked him about Vietnam and other hot political issues.
Upon my arrival in Washington, I checked into Thompson-Markward Hall, which at the time housed male Pages in one of its wings, and then headed over to Capitol Page School on the top floor of the Library of Congress. I went to talk with the principal, Jack Hoffman, in the office that he shared with the secretary for the school. He asked what grade I was in, and I told him the truth, that I was as in 8th grade. Oh, he said, this is a high school. Wow, I remember thinking, that’s disappointing. I had traveled about 4,000 miles to be a Page, and as it turned out, I wasn’t old enough to be in the program. Bummer.
But that wasn’t the end of it. At 14, I was technically the minimum age to be a Senate Page, regardless of year in school. So I started work, unaware of the negotiations swirling behind my back. One day I was summoned back to Mr. Hoffman’s office. He announced that, in fact, I was not in 8th grade, but was instead in 9th grade. And so, in the middle of the school year, having started that year in 8th grade at Blatchley Junior High at home, I was now a freshman in high school at Capitol Page School in Washington, D.C.
I remember my “freshman semester” (wink, wink) as academically challenging, which I credited to being in the wrong class year, but also to lack of sleep (6:15 a.m. biology didn’t help) and 7 ½-minute classes (to accommodate early Senate sessions). Suddenly my consistently “A” report card started displaying all the other letters used on report cards. Yet surprisingly, my academic “flailing” never prompted any talk about sending me home.
I remember some of my teachers, including Naomi Ulmer (biology), Willard King (math), Fred Hilton (history), Regina Nitkin (French) and Alma Ritter (English). My report card from Ms. Ulmer, which I recently found, stated in the comments, “Terry needs to develop better study habits. He is nonetheless a fine trustworthy lad.” All in all, not much to take issue with there.
I served as a Page from January 1975, until August 1976, and completed my “sophomore” year at CPS. When I returned to Sitka, I was enrolled in my correct class as if nothing had happened, and repeated my sophomore year.
My time as a Page was an extraordinary experience. And, it only happened because responsible people did what would now be viewed as an irresponsible thing: making an 8th grader a high school freshman in the middle of a school year, for reasons completely unrelated to academic achievement. But more than 40 years later, I am very glad that they did.
Terry went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts from Willamette University and Juris Doctor from Willamette University College or Law in Salem, Oregon after CPS, proving perhaps that his Page experience itself trumped the report card. He practices employment law in Gig Harbor, Washington.