By Samuel Shultz, Senate ’02
Being a Page was an extraordinary experience. But back then, I had no inkling that my dream of the ultimate Washington experience, beyond being a Page, would take 15 years to occur.
I fell in love with Washington for its beauty, culture, diversity and artistic scene. Our Page school math teacher, Mr. Cwalina, put himself in charge of our cultural education and arranged for Pages to see performances around town. To my profound disappointment, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was never a venue we could visit, partly because sniper attacks locked down the city and the Congressional calendar was busy.
I obtained music degrees from Rice University in Houston, moved to New York, and enjoy an operatic singing career. In March this year, out of the blue, I got a call from the Washington National Opera. The representative asked me if I was available that very night, to sing the final dress rehearsal of Champion at the Kennedy Center. The engagement was in six hours and I had a three-hour commute to D.C., but I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
It quickly sank in that my first time visiting the Kennedy Center was going to be walking through the stage door, directly to stage right, to sing the role of Howie Albert to the invited audience. The opportunity was a little bigger than I had even hoped for as a Page.
The Washington National Opera was aware that four years earlier I had been peripherally exposed to the music and story of Champion. It moved me, and I regard it as a story that needs to be told. It was first performed in 2013. Against the backdrop of the true story of Emile Griffith, a boxer and Howie Albert, his trainer in the 1960s, this “opera in jazz,” as it is known, examines a society beginning to come to grips with explosive issues of diversity and tolerance. There is even an eerie foreshadowing of our discussions about the news media today, when Howie gripes that, “The truth don’t fit in a three-inch column, the truth don’t fit on a newspaper page.”
In terms of the production, I got to sing the dress rehearsal and two other performances. Even though I was a late and short-term addition to the cast, I felt proud to be a part of telling the story and honoring Emile’s spirit and legacy. I felt I had done something that would truly put a finishing touch to my Page experience.
President Kennedy also spoke of the role of art in society. “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
Samuel was sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)