The 18th birthday is one Leah Smith won’t forget.
It was actually April 11, the day after her birthday, when Smith found out she will become the latest Oak Bay High student to graduate directly into the House of Commons Page Program at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The Page Program accepts 40 bilingual students from across the nation each year. Teacher Scott Alexander, the scholarship advisor at Oak Bay High, has now helped four Oak Bay students get into the Page Program, all in the last five years.
“When I opened the email I was the only one at the table, I called my mom, and then I ran to Mr. Alexander’s room, ‘I got in,’” said Smith. “I always assumed I would go somewhere for school, this is still a bit of a change for me, it’s still a bit of a shock that I won’t be here next year but also an opportunity to go it on my own and see how I’ll manage.”
Smith is registered in undergraduate studies in International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa and will work in the Page Program from August until June of 2020, mostly when the house is sitting.
“Smith is an exceptionally hard working, civic minded student who is a perfect candidate for the Page Program,” said Alexander. “She has sought to elevate her bilingual skills, combined with an opportunity to serve members of Parliament, with a keen interest to be able to watch democracy at work in Parliament.”
Applicants must be bilingual and have a grade average above 80 per cent to apply. The program starts with an intensive training program in August to get comfortable with the work environment. It includes etiquette training and the various responsibilities and other nuances that Smith is eager to pick up.
“I’ve talked to people who did it and they say the Page Program is one of the most unique ways to spend your first year of university,” she said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to to see how our government works.”
Smith and her family visited Ottawa in February, when they checked out the universities (pages must attend one of the local universities) and skated on the frozen Rideau Canal.
“It was cold but it was nice,” Smith said.
Smith has co-organized two community drives, one an annual toy drive during the winter holidays that raises as much as 800 toys. The other is a gently used sports equipment swap in September, held in Oaklands, that should continue again in 2019.
Pages work three shifts per week (when the house is sitting), mostly in the House of Commons, running errands such as delivering letters and other administrative work. Because the program runs until June, Smith will have additional time she plans to use to explore the city, region and provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Smith has also fundraised for Interact Club projects, the youth arm of Rotary International, and volunteered for Amnesty International.