Whitman Eighth-Grader Finds Own Voice As Virginia Senate Page in Richmond
Diego Orendain, an eighth-grader at Whitman Middle School in Alexandria, served as his school’s first-ever Virginia Senate page during the recent state legislative session, according to Principal Craig Herring.
Nominated by his civics teacher, Diego first turned down the opportunity to spend nine weeks in Richmond, assisting state lawmakers in passing new legislation. When his parents pushed him to reconsider the chance to work with Senator Scott Surovell, who represents District 36 in Eastern Fairfax County, Diego decided to give it a shot.
Diego was one of 36 Virginia students working alongside state senators from 8am to 5pm everyday, passing messages between lawmakers, collecting signatures on pieces of legislation and guiding people through the state Capitol building.
While in Richmond, Diego witnessed senators weighing legislation regularly, including the bill to make masks optional in Virginia schools. “Watching them debate made me realize that they respect each other even if they don't agree with one another,” Diego says. “Every time the session ends, senators walk towards their ‘debater’ and talk like they have been best friends since they were born.”
He says the biggest lesson he takes from his time in the state assembly is to “always use your voice.” Previously, Diego says, he wouldn’t bother asking if it was possible to retake a test, or reaching out to a new group of classmates to build new friendships or get involved in new activities.
“I always waited for every good opportunity that came to me during school,” Diego says. “I never asked for anything or took action to change things. The Senate Page Program taught me to voice my opinions, thoughts, and that you never know what can happen when you say something, instead of saying nothing at all. Anyone can make a difference so I am trying to take advantage of that now.”
Diego was joined by five other FCPS students this year in the Senate Page Program: Caroline Lefton from Cooper Middle School, Dalayna Carr from Langley High School, Gretchen Schmitt from Kilmer Middle School, Summer Allwood from Lake Braddock Secondary School and Elizabeth Bartos from Washington Irving Middle School.