Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Becoming An Eagle Scout

Parents, Honored Guests, Friends and Fellow Scouts:

I am honored to have this opportunity to speak to you about the meaning of Scouting in the lives of the young men who choose to be part of it and particularly those who persevere on the Trail to Eagle. But I must say, some of you know all too well there is a great risk in giving me a podium and an audience with a whole evening before me and a subject I love. All I can promise is to try to practice the Ninth Point of the Scout Law and be "Thrifty" with your time this evening.

Scouting is one of the greatest organizations in the world to foster the highest ideals of citizenship and service. It is little wonder then that so many of our nation’s greatest leaders had some of their earliest leadership experiences in Scouting. Some aspects of the Scouting program may have changed over time. But one thing remains constant. That is, the total development from boyhood to manhood is still founded on the physical, mental, and moral excellence expressed in and demanded by the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

When most boys enter Scouting, they likely picture themselves as someday becoming Eagle Scouts. But as often happens, many activities and interests clamor for their attention as they enter their high school years and the early Scouting flames and aspirations may dim to ashes and flicker away. After all, historically only about four percent of Scouts have achieved the Eagle Rank.

So, what does the Eagle badge represent in the lives of the young men who earn it? Certainly, it means that a Scout has set his eyes on a challenging goal and has worked hard to achieve it. But more importantly, it is a measure of a boy’s future potential as he grows to manhood. In truth, achieving the Eagle Scout Rank is not an end but simply an open door to the future.

There is much that can be said about the Trail to Eagle, about the challenges along the way and about the accomplishment itself—the what, how and when. But I would like to highlight one point that is often missed. That is, long before a Scout can actually reach this high honor, he has a decision to make. That decision is the fundamental answer to the question, “Do I want to be an Eagle Scout?”

In fact, this very question is the “why” that drives each prospective Eagle Scout forward. It is a decision only the Scout himself can make. That these young men are here before you is clear evidence each one made the decision and stayed the course.

Certainly, their family and friends encouraged them and maybe even gently nudged them at various points along the way. And any Scout would likely tell you that an encouraging word can be like gold when the journey gets tough and a Scout has to dig deep, then deeper still, just to keep going. But ultimately, and by design, the Scout must answer the call of the soaring eagle for himself, just as each of these young men did.

For some the decision may have come early in their Scouting careers. For others, it may have happened much later, after an awakening about what becoming an Eagle Scout means to them. And did I mention there is a clock ticking away in the background? Yes, at age 18, the Trail to Eagle ends for all Boy Scouts.

But regardless of when the decision occurs, that is the moment each Scout truly learns the importance of the Eagle Scout Rank in his own life. It is at that decision point when he accepts the challenge, makes the commitment and maps out a personal plan and strategy to meet the goal.

How many Ranks and Merit Badges do I have left and can I complete them all in time? What will I do for my Eagle Service Project and how long do I need to finish it? Have I completed all my Leadership requirements and have I done my best to be an active mentor to other Scouts in the Troop looking to me for guidance? These are the questions each Scout must answer for himself, often when facing the many other demands of an increasingly busy schedule of school, family, sports and even work activities.

On occasion, the Scout’s decision to embark on the Trail to Eagle may be challenged by others—peers in school, team mates or even friends—who may not fully understand the pull of the spirit of Scouting. No matter, because it is a Scout’s own personal motivation which will carry him across the finish line.

As I thought about each of the young men seated before you this evening, I noted a common theme along their Trail to Eagle. It has been a clear and strong sense of self and, yes, even a bit of a stubborn streak, that has stood them in good stead on their individual journeys. Indeed, I would have no trouble speaking volumes about the strong personal attributes of each one.

Some have left their mark on academics, others in athletic competition. Some followed Eagles in their own families or reached that goal as the first. Some have excelled in math and science, others in the arts. Some have dug snow caves that would match any survivor's story, others have climbed mountains or backpacked for miles for the sheer joy of it.

However, regardless of their individual accomplishments, skills and talents both inside and outside of Scouting, they are now bound together by one common conviction—they are, and always will be, Eagle Scouts who are 100 percent guilty of being Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.

Gentlemen, Welcome to the Eagles' Nest. It is a personal honor and a singular pleasure to be in your company.

And it’s a great day for Scouting!