Sedalia Mahlum
Sedalia Mahlum poses with Minority Leader Harry Reid after singing with other Democratic pages at his weekly constituent breakfast. From left to right are Mahlum, Katie Clarey, Senator Reid, Kateri Hawley and Kate Ehrenberg. (Submitted photo)

Sedalia Mahlum gives a speech to pages, parents and members of the Senate staff at the Page Awards Assembly on June 25. Mahlum was chosen to speak along with two other pages. (Submitted photo)

Next time you come across a mention of how Congress is slow and doesn't accomplish anything anymore, I would encourage you to think twice about believing it.

I spent the last semester serving in Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Senate page. Working in the Senate taught me about teamwork. Although senators are often painted as sworn enemies constantly plotting to out-scheme each other, I saw a very different side -- one distinguished by its high level of respect and courtesy for others. In the Senate, "politics as usual" doesn't have to be negative term.

Full disclosure: I have always loved the political process. My infatuation with politics began at a young age, when my family would watch the national news together. I became a regular C-SPAN viewer, dreaming of being a pantsuit-clad Senate page long before I was even old enough to be considered. I wanted to devour every morsel of knowledge about the Senate I could get my little hands on. So, although I may have entered the Senate with rose-colored glasses, I also had some exposure to its purported nasty and sometimes slow-moving side.

It is curious that the Senate is still on a primarily paper system in the year 2015, and votes are taken by voice in a process that lasts up to an hour. I don't condemn this, however, as the Senate chamber is a working museum. The history of the space clouds over every action, which can have both positive and negative ramifications. Naturally, traditional procedure will always be more time consuming than procedures created to be expedient. However, tradition also dictates the high regard Senators are expected to show one another in and outside of the chamber. The history of the Senate therefore facilitates positive working relationships between even the most polarized members.

Before I worked in the Senate, I viewed senators as gods full of political wrath and might. My experience as a page, a fly on the wall, however, demonstrated that the Senators are remarkably human and interact with each other in positive ways. They discuss their children and share family pictures when they gather for special events. Just like me, they like spinach on their lunch salads. They sit together, male and female, and watch football during marathon voting periods. I've even witnessed senators deliver blistering remarks against each other's positions on an issue on TV and then greet each other cordially at the conclusion. Simply sitting in that chamber and observing those interactions taught me lifelong lessons on respecting the dignity of others.

I enjoyed seeing the way the senators communicate with each other to get legislation passed, taking advantage of the times when they gather on the floor for a vote to lobby each other. Some even pass out flyers about their bills. The 2015 spring pages likely didn't have an impact on the senators, but their cooperative spirit lives on.

Beyond the visible surface, I was fortunate to be surrounded by the hundreds of kind and hardworking Capitol staffers. The Senate is an unusual workplace in that there are 16 year olds hustling around at all hours of the day. Nevertheless, I received an exceptional amount of grace and generosity from the Senate and Capitol staff.

My perception of the Senate has not necessarily shifted but expanded. The snarky political side will forever be intertwined with the heartfelt human side. You may examine my former workplace and write it off as a place of gridlock and tension, but what I will always remember from my time there is the sense of respect and appreciation for others that is the basis of the United States Senate.

Sedalia Mahlum was appointed a U.S. Senate page by Senator Heidi Heitkamp for the spring 2015 semester. She graduated the program in June and will be a senior at Century High School in Bismarck in the fall.