YARMOUTH — This past semester, I woke up at 4:45 every weekday morning. I’m not a lobsterman, and I don’t have insomnia. Along with 27 other Senate pages, I was appointed by a U.S. senator from my state to work on the Senate floor delivering documents, setting up senators’ desks for speeches and helping senators with other requests. Turn on C-SPAN 2 sometime, and you’ll see the Senate pages in their signature blue suits.

I understand that this might sound like a mundane job, but for those of us with a passion for politics bordering on obsession, a front-row seat to history makes the early mornings and difficult tasks more than worth it. Here are the three biggest insights I gained about the political process while spending five months in the U.S. Senate.

 Floor speeches have no real impact.

Much of the legislative day in the Senate chamber is taken up by “debate.” Contrary to popular connotations of this word, in the Senate a debate is when a single senator is speaking to an empty chamber.

I asked multiple legislators on both sides of the aisle about the role that floor speeches play in convincing other senators of an argument, and the answer is best summed up by one senator’s response: “Zippo. Nada.” The only true purpose these speeches serve is producing soundbites that can be used for campaigning. Effective negotiations, rather, take place in committees, private meetings or not at all.

After hearing talking points repeated hour after hour during Senate sessions, I wondered how things would be different if real debate occurred in the chamber. Would senators confront one another when one stretches the truth? Would it make each side listen to the other? What impact would this have on legislation?

Whether this structure of debate can or should be changed, when you see clips on the news of senators speaking in the chamber, be aware that the actual, consequential activity is all being done behind the scenes.

 Church and state aren’t so far apart.

The United States’ official motto is not “E pluribus unum” (“Out of the many, one”) but “In God we trust.” Every U.S. Senate session begins with a prayer delivered by the Senate chaplain. On the Senate president’s desk lie three stacked books: Senate Procedures, the Senate Rules Manual and the Bible – the Bible is on top.

I had many conversations about the relationship between faith and government with one religious senator who reminded me that while Thomas Jefferson had advocated a separation of church and state, he often worshipped directly after the Continental Congress convened. I interpreted this comment to imply one thing: Jefferson’s publicized separation apparently wasn’t such a big deal after all.

Freedom of worship is an invaluable component of our democracy. However, we should be wary when religious influence seeps into legislation that affects people who don’t practice the same faith as the legislators crafting the law.

Evidence that religion is currently an integral part of politics can be seen in the answer a senator gave when I asked how he weighs legislating as an American versus legislating as a Christian: “I haven’t seen a place where the Constitution and the Bible contradict each other.” His answer wasn’t “as a senator, I hold the Constitution above all else,” but merely that his faith and patriotism did not happen to conflict. This makes me pause.

We should be very hopeful for the future.

While in the Senate, I was working alongside 27 bright, ambitious and passionate Senate pages from across the country and the political spectrum. Our political discussions were heated because of how much we each believe in our own convictions; however, there was a sense of curiosity to understand opposing arguments that made this group impressive. Additionally, despite our range of political beliefs, there were also issues that have been contentious in politics for years that most of us actually agreed on, such as criminal justice reform, common-sense gun regulations and gay marriage. I strongly believe that some of the country’s future leaders were among this group.

Current elected officials might be satisfied with keeping progress stagnated, but as 17-year-olds, we have curiosity, hope and a dash of idealism on our side. We are ready to move this country forward. Senate pages are unique in our exposure to politics as teenagers, but we are not unique in our potential to get involved. Provided the right framework, young people will want to help move toward progress. Young people have a lot to say. I think it’s time to listen.