Stratford teen sees government at work

AMANDA CUDA acuda@ctpost.com
Connecticut Post Online
Article Last Updated:09/29/2007 11:15:51 PM EDT
Louise Lisboa is advanced for her age.

The 17-year-old Stratford resident is already a junior at the University of Bridgeport and, last year, she earned an associate's degree from Housatonic Community College. But while Lisboa's academic acceleration is impressive, it almost kept her out of the prestigious Congressional Page Program. The 200-year-old program recruits young people to work in Washington, D.C., assisting legislators with their duties, answering phones and delivering messages and packages.

Lisboa learned about the page program while working as an intern in Congressman Christopher Shays' Bridgeport office, and wanted to apply. But that proved problematic.

Pages are typically juniors in high school — not about to start their junior year of college. Lisboa was temporarily concerned that her over-achiever status might keep her from being a page. It was frustrating. "It wasn't fair that, because I excelled, I couldn't be in the program," Lisboa said.

Thankfully, the powers that be eventually decided that Lisboa's advanced grade wasn't an issue, and she spent one month during the summer as a page for the Republican Party. For Lisboa, it was a dream, a real opportunity to see how government works and how laws are made. "You never know how much work goes into that until you see it," she said.

Before working for Shays, R-4, Lisboa wasn't tremendously enthusiastic about politics. She was more interested in pursuing a career in international law. But she felt a political internship would be good experience, did some research and applied for the Shays job.

Working for the congressman sparked her curiosity about politics, and she wanted to learn more. That's what led her to apply for the page program.

Pages must be nominated by a member of Congress and Shays' Chief of Staff Betsy Hawkings said the congressman was happy to support her. "The people who worked with her in the district office said she was a very gifted young person," Hawkings said. "She's very dynamic."

As a page, Lisboa spent most of her time answering phones, delivering messages and occasionally fetching American flags for congressmen to mail to constituents. Typically, she worked from morning until late at night — sometimes 11 p.m. or midnight — then stayed with other pages at a residential hall a few blocks from the Capitol. Despite the long hours, Lisboa loved her summer job. She got to meet a number of the Republican congressmen, all of whom were eager to answer questions or take pictures with her. Sometimes she was even allowed on the House floor to watch bills get discussed and debated. "I got to see a lot of behind the scenes stuff," Lisboa said.

Meanwhile, Lisboa is back at school, and still interested in pursuing a law career. In fact, in addition to her page-ship, Lisboa spent part of the summer in a pre-law program at Northern Illinois University She continues to have a full slate, attending classes and participating in youth programs for both the Stratford EMS and the Fairfield Police Department. Lisboa said she also hopes to travel to Africa on her winter break.

Lisboa said her page experience was eye-opening, and she now wants to learn even more about politics, hoping to apply for an internship of some sort when she turns 18. She said considers herself a Republican, although "that's not set in stone."

Despite the image some people have of teenagers as apathetic, that's not the whole picture, Lisboa said. Everyone she met in Washington loved politics, and many teens understand the importance of the political process in their lives.

"It's our future that's affected by who's elected," Lisboa said.

Amanda Cuda, who covers feature news, can be reached at 330-6290.