Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer • Contact Reporter
Published July 24, 2019
Dan McDermott won’t turn 18 until March, but that didn’t stop him from serving in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. for five months earlier this year—as a Senate page, that is.
And, while the Guilford resident is excited to be entering his senior year at Notre Dame High School in West Haven this fall and going on to college after that, he’s also battling a slight case of FOMO—fear of missing out—from what’s taking place at the U.S. Capitol.
“I’ve watched it on TV and the past few weeks have been painful. I feel like I’m left out,” says Dan. “It’s very exhilarating being down there. It was just total culture shock, at first, then it just become so surreal and it remained that way throughout.”
Some of the most surreal moments? Meeting Captain America (actor Chris Evans) when he came to town to talk climate policy with Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski. Being captured, for a moment, on national TV while standing by at the State of the Union address, where Dan also shook the president’s hand. Meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a joint meeting of Congress. Receiving words of wisdom from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and “hearing corny jokes daily from Senator Cory Booker,” says Dan.
If you’ve detected an unlikely mix of political parties among those moments, you’ve glimpsed what Dan says was one of the surprises he found during his time serving all of the senators working on Capitol Hill.
“They’re certainly a lot more down to earth than they appear, and they get along a lot better,” Dan says.
But make no mistake: They also get to work, says Dan.
“I don’t think I was prepared for how fast-paced it was,” he says. “So you’ve really got savor every minute working on the Hill. Time is very, very valuable.”
Immersed in Politics
As one of 30 high school Senate pages from across the nation sent to D.C. to serve the senate from January to May 2019, Dan’s days were exceptionally busy.
“We lived in a dorm four blocks from the Capitol, and our school was in the basement. We attended school from six in the morning until 8:45 [a.m.] and then we went to work in the Capitol,” he says.
The Senate Page program is the country’s official, highly selective high school internship program with the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C. High school juniors are selected to serve one of four semesters (fall, spring, or one of two each summer). The pages get to rub elbows with senators and government leaders working at the Hart Senate Office Building. They prepare the chamber for daily business and deliver things like messages and legislative materials. When Congress is in session, they stand by to take on any tasks required.
The routine was quite a bit different from the daily life his peers were experiencing back at Notre Dame, but Dan says he wouldn’t have missed it.
“I’m very glad I had that experience,” he says. “I do feel like I missed out on my junior year of high school a little bit—I did get back for prom—but I think it was definitely worth the sacrifice.”
Dan’s interest in politics, combined with his volunteer work in federal and state campaigns in recent years, opened the door for the opportunity to become a senate page, with help from Guilford State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98).
“I’ve always been very interested and involved in our local politics, and I’ve always been pretty close with Representative Sean Scanlon, and he kind of helped me through the process a little bit. I applied, and he was very helpful to me, and fortunately, I got it,” says Dan.
Dan says he considers Scanlon to be among the role models that have “helped ignite my passion for public service.”
The Local Connection
“I met Sean at a charity hockey game raising awareness for the opioid crisis, where we were both volunteering. Sean and I talked for the duration of the game and he later invited me to the state capitol to watch the General Assembly in session. Sean and I stayed in touch and he helped me get involved in campaigns during the 2018 cycle,” says Dan.
Dan committed himself to working for U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Chris Murphy on their respective campaigns during that election.
As a page from Connecticut, Dan was sponsored in the Senate by Murphy, whom he also got to meet.
“He was extremely nice to me. He made me feel at home, being so far away from Connecticut, and his office was also very helpful to me,” says Dan.
During his time in D.C., Dan also sought some advice from DeLauro, he says.
“I was worried, my last few weeks, about getting back to the Capitol,” he says. “I had a meeting with our congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro, and I asked her, ‘How can I get involved? I’m worried I’m going to miss this.’ She’s always been very nice to me, and she told me, ‘We’ll get you involved in municipal elections.’ I do think that’s the best thing that young people can do, is just get involved.”
Dan is certainly an example of getting involved. During the 2018 midterm election cycle, “I put in over 300 hours on the campaign trail, between September and November, on top of school,” he notes.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my parents,” Dan adds. “Notre Dame has also been critical in fostering my passion for service and leadership.”
At Notre Dame, he’s been elected to serve on the school’s Student Council each year since freshman year. In his freshman year at Notre Dame, Dan and a group of seniors founded Model UN (United Nations) at the school, now entering its fourth year with Dan serving among its leadership.
“It was a great success and one of my proudest accomplishments in high school,” says Dan.
He was also sponsored by Notre Dame to attend numerous leadership conferences including Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference and New England Student Leadership conference.
As for the future, Dan has a lot to undertake and plans to accomplish much. He’s excited to be entering his senior year and looking forward to applying for colleges in the New York City and Washington D.C. area, In college, he intends to specialize in economics and political science. Dan’s also looking forward to becoming eligible to vote in 2020.
“I turn 18 in March, so I’m very eager to vote and finally have my voice heard,” says Dan.
Dan says he will also find his way back to the Capitol, the place which helped to solidify his intent to work for the public.
“I definitely look forward to going back there, hopefully soon. It was a great experience. I think it set a good foundation for what I want to do,” says Dan. “I’ve always been very interested in public service, and that’s what I aspire to do.”