It’s been an extremely busy spring for MVA seniors as they complete their semester course work and exams, prepare for graduation, and decide where they will attend college and university next fall.  As mentioned last week in various MVA social media, Montverde Academy senior and head prefect, Ciara “Pepper” Hopkins, has been especially hardworking too. In April, she was selected the 5th overall female in the United States (age group 16 – 17) for the 2014 triathlon season by USA Triathlon, the National governing body of triathlon in the United States. This is great news, but last month Ciara also completed her session serving in the Florida Senate Page Program for distinguished Republican Senator Alan Hayes, who represents Florida Senate District 11.

Throughout regular Florida Legislature sessions, Florida students are invited to visit the Florida Capital, located in Tallahassee, Florida, for one week to experience assisting Florida Senate members, and to learn more about the legislative process.  Ciara’s Florida Senate Page nomination was the first-ever for a Montverde Academy student. In her many years attending the Academy, Ciara has been an accomplished student, high-school athlete, and national triathlete. In October of 2014, Ciara received the South Lake Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Student of the Month. Ciara’s outstanding senior speech can be found HERE.

The following paragraphs, written and provided to by Ciara, provide a good description of her incredibly educational experience participating in the 2015 Florida Senate Page Program:

After meeting State Senator Hays at the 2015 groundbreaking ceremony, he asked me to apply to be a Page and said he would sponsor me. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I drove to Tallahassee, Florida, on a Sunday afternoon. I pulled into my host families driveway and met the Carters, a family of five, and the other two Pages who were staying with them. This was the start of an unforgettable experience!

By 7:30 on Monday morning I was walking into the Senate Building in a blue blazer with a Florida State Senate patch wondering how I was ever going to find my away around this building. After meeting the other 12 Pages and the two Page Coordinators (both FSU graduates) we toured the buildings and learned what we would be expected to do. We would stay in the Page Room and wait until a senator requested a page for a page run. Most of the time the page runs were deliveries from one office to another. In between page runs the pages really got to know each other and shared a bond and an experience that will last a lifetime.

We also had the opportunity to tour the old Capitol building and the state Supreme Court where we got to do a mock trial. I was chosen as one of the seven Supreme Court justices and heard the case of School Board of Sunshine County v. Jimmy Acton (random drug testing in schools). Each side was represented by other pages and ultimately the justices voted in favor of the school board, allowing random drug tests.

On Wednesday, the Florida Senate was in session, which was one of my favorite events of the week. I was chosen along with four other pages to lead the pledge of allegiance in front of the senate and then all of us stayed on the floor during session and heard the Senators debate bills and vote on legislation.

Each Senator has several buttons at their desk, one of which is a page request button. When they needed a page to deliver something or they just wanted some orange juice, their request would come up on a board and we would take turns filling their requests. This was definitely the most interesting part of the trip because of how chaotic it was on the floor at all times.

On the last day we got to have mock session of our own which was the most fun! I was elected by the other pages to be the president of the senate and got to lead the debate of bill 176 (whether or not guns should be allowed in college campuses) on the actual senate floor. The pages had the opportunity to write amendments, form arguments and debate the amendments and the bill before voting. We even had an audience in the gallery! After the secretary tallied the votes it was determined that the bill failed and guns would not be allowed on college campuses. Some other highlights included meeting multiple senators, the Attorney General, the President of the Senate and the Governor of Florida.

At the end of the week we all made one final visit to the 22nd floor of the new Capitol building, which has the greatest view in Tallahassee, before saying goodbye to our week long internship and our new friends.