CRYSTAL LAKE – Christopher Vito had a front-row seat to the government shutdown.
The Crystal Lake Central High School junior served as a U.S. Senate page for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., from September to January, soaking up the political posturing and drama of the shutdown, debt ceiling debate and other major issues.
Days were long, starting with a 5 a.m. wake-up call everyday for school at 6:15, which would last until the Senate started its session. If Vito had to work the second shift, he could be serving on the floor past midnight, including one night that stretched to 2 a.m.
Despite the rigorous days, Vito left Washington knowing he would want to go back one day, perhaps as a full-time staffer charged with doing the complicated research that becomes the foundation for the nation’s laws.
Northwest Herald reporter Jeff Engelhardt sat down with Vito to discuss what inspired him to get involved in politics, the craziness of the government shutdown and how tough the transition has been back into standard school days.
Engelhardt: What was the initial inspiration for you wanting to get into this program?
Vito: It actually started when I was in seventh grade and my dad took me to Springfield when he was on a business meeting and I was a page for a day with state Sen. [Pamela] Althoff. Ever since then, we’ve been in contact. She’s been a mentor to me and wrote me a recommendation to Sen. Durbin.
Engelhardt: Was it a culture shock to be in Washington? Was it the first time you were away from home that long?
Vito: It was. There were very strict rules. You couldn’t have your cellphone at all. No Internet access except for school. As far as the culture, it wasn’t too difficult to adjust to, but it was tougher for some of the pages.
Engelhardt: You were there for the government shutdown. How was it to experience that from the inside?
Vito: That whole 16 days of everything being shut down was completely new that not many people there had experienced. They even had to cancel some field trips they had scheduled for us. Even the page staff didn’t really know how to handle it.
Engelhardt: When everything was running smoothly, what were some of your main responsibilities?
Vito: On a day-to-day basis there were so many things we could do. The cloak room would call and have us do a run of legislation or amendment to different offices in the capital complex. We would serve Senators on the floor and take care of anything they needed. We would set up their lecterns when they prepared to speak. Some of us would keep track of the presiding officer hours.
Engelhardt: Washington isn’t the most popular place with most people. Did anything surprise you about the experience? Are there some misconceptions you think people had?
Vito: I think you have to know underneath all the press and politics people see, they’re real people. For the most part they’re very nice people. They were nice to us and to each other, which most people don’t see unless you’re there observing their personal conversations. They’re just under a large amount of stress.
Engelhardt: How has the transition been back to high school?
Vito: After getting to see all this important stuff going on, it’s been very strange being stuck in a classroom all day. It was a challenge to get back in the routine – particularly going to school for so long in the same place.
Engelhardt: So do you envision yourself going back to Washington?
Vito: I would like to. I’m not really sure what I would do, hopefully be an intern some day. It’s still a mystery for me.
The Vito lowdown
Who is he? Christopher Vito, recent U.S. Senate page
School? Crystal Lake Central High School
Favorite activity? Band/Choir
Favorite food? Mexican
Favorite politician? Daniel Webster