Saturday, March 28, 2009

fly like an Eagle (Scout)

This morning, I attended the Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony for one of my nephews, my older brother's oldest son. My brother had sent out an invitation a couple of weeks ago, and the husband and I had accepted the invitation to attend.

I had known that my brother and his kids had been involved in scouting for some time, and I had heard from the oldest son a couple of months ago that he was very close to completing Eagle Scout. I had the understanding that it was significant, but I'll admit that I didn't know what it really meant.

When I was a kid, I never knew anyone who was part of scouting. Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that there might be some kind of correlation between scouting and socio-economic level - I grew up in a fairly modest neighborhood, and I don't know that there would have been the means nor the inclination for most people in that area to be involved in scouting. Even when I was in college, I don't recall any of my friends ever mentioning being involved with scouting. I think the most I ever knew about the Boy Scouts was the whole "helping little old ladies across the street" thing, along with a recitation they'd learn about what attributes a Boy Scout should exemplify, and I'd see the occasional ad on TV. But none of that really gave me an understanding of what Boy Scouts was really about.

So after I responded to the invitation, I sent out a tweet for some advice about protocol and what I needed to do, and I got back a response from a friend which was very helpful.

The Boy Scout troop that my nephew belongs to meets at a church, which is where the ceremony was also held. The husband and I picked up my parents, and we ended up arriving at the church a bit early. We said hello to my brother and my sister-in-law, as well as my two nephews. We also had a chance to look at some of the displays that had been put up. The troop had 8 scouts who were being honored in the ceremony, and each scout had a table in the lobby area. Each table had a picture of the boy in his scout uniform in front of the American flag. There was also a plaque with the Eagle Scout certificate as well as a plexiglass award for the Eagle Scout. There was also a book that had the scout's Eagle Scout application, merit badge cards, and a full description of the scout's Eagle Scout project.

Each scout has to complete a project as part of the process, and the projects by the various boys included rebuilding a church barbeque pit, refurbishing a church gazebo, refurbishing the recreation room for a local youth center, and other renovation or refurbishment projects for other public locations. There were details about what the project was planned to be, how much the project would cost (because of materials needed to do the project), how the scout would raise the money for the project (generally through donations and fundraising activities), the actual process of doing the project itself, a breakdown of the amount of time the entire project took, what changes might have needed to have been made during the course of completing the project, and pictorial documentation of before, during and after completion of the project. The scout generally had help in doing the project, since part of the project is so the scout can demonstrate an ability to lead and work with others. The documentation of the projects shows what an endeavour it is for each scout to complete his project.

There was another book on the table which contained all of the various awards and certificates that the scout had received as well as a multitude of congratulatory letters from various political dignitaries, government agencies, businesses and private individuals on the scout's Eagle Scout achievement. I would imagine there's a whole process in place for this, but it was still very impressive to see. In looking through my nephew's book, there were a number of letters from local councilpeople, state senators and reps, the governor of California, Congressional reps and Senators, former president Jimmy Carter, former president George Bush and Barbara Bush, Vice President Joe Biden, various federal agencies including the Navy, the California Highway Patrol, commissioner of the National Football League, owners of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Anaheim Angels (yeah, I know, but I'm still calling them that), and that's just to name a few of the ones I remember seeing.

We also said hello to my older sister and her husband when they arrived, and then it was shortly time for the ceremony to start, so we took seats in the sanctuary. (The church grounds were very nice, and the church itself was beautiful.) The master of ceremonies for the court of honor was one of the members of the troop. The color guards (which included another nephew of mine, the younger brother of the Eagle Scout honoree) brought in flags and situated them and then the ceremony itself was called to order.

There was a bit of information given about the path that a scout takes from the very beginning to the point where they would qualify to be an Eagle Scout. Then, in turn, each Eagle Scout has introduced, including a few of his accomplishments, and then a representative chosen by the Eagle Scout honoree was able to give a testimonial about the person. The people chosen to speak ranged from family members to teachers to tutors to friends, and it was really nice to hear the stories that everyone told and to learn a bit about each honoree.

The person my nephew had chosen (as did a fellow honoree who is also one of his classmates) is one of his high school teachers. When she was speaking about the other honoree, she told a funny story about how she was actually late for the ceremony because she had gotten lost, since the numbering system on the street is a bit eodd. She knew she was lost but didn't know how to get where she needed to be, and she happened to spot two local city police officers in their car stopped on the street, so she turned her car around and made her way over to them and explained that she was lost and where she was trying to get to and how important it was because of what she was going there to do, and could they tell her how to get to the church? And, she said, that's how she ended up getting a police escort to the church. I loved that story. It was also funny that a local city councilman was in attendance at the ceremony, and he later mentioned that it was nice to hear confirmation about how helpful the local police officers were.

When the teacher spoke about my nephew, it was interesting to hear what she had to say about him, how glowing she was in her praise of him, and she also had one really interesting thing to share about an assignment he had completed in her class. I still have a hard time remembering that this nephew is now an adult, having just turned 18 this month.

Slight tangent here for a minute to tell a story - at one point, I lived across the street from my brother and his family. At that time, they only had the oldest son, the Eagle Scout honoree, who was probably maybe 2 or so at the time. It was December, and it was my first Christmas in the house, so I was putting up decorations and a tree. My sister-in-law and the nephew had come over for something, and my sister-in-law was going back to her house, but my nephew wanted to "help" (really, it was "watch") me decorate the tree, so he stayed at my house. As I was decorating, I figured he'd be bored just watching me, so I decided I could put on some cartoons for him to watch too. My brother is a big Disney fan (this was before I started my own Disney obsession), so I knew that my nephew knew who Mickey and Minnie and Donald and Goofy and Pluto et al were and watched their cartoons often, so I asked him if he wanted to watch Bugs Bunny instead. And I was stunned at his answer. He had no idea who Bugs Bunny was. Or Elmer Fudd. Or Road Runner. My brother had indoctrinated him into Disney animated lore, but he'd never been introduced to Warner Bros. cartoons. What kind of neglect was this poor kid being subjected to? How can he be almost 3 years old and have no idea about any of the Warner Bros. characters? Well, as his aunt, it was my duty to make sure he had a well-rounded education - so I sat him down and put in one of the multiple Warner Bros. cartoon collections I owned. As each cartoon came on, I explained to him who each character was while I continued to decorate the house. I like to think that I'm the one responsible for balancing out his animated characters education.

After a couple hours, his mom came back to get him because it was time for his dinner. After that, it was bath time and then off to bed for him. She told me the next day that he'd gotten upset because he thought he'd be coming back to my house after dinner. He was worried that if he wasn't there to "help", I wouldn't be able to finish decorating the tree. She assured him that I would be able to manage on my own, but I thought that was pretty sweet of him to be concerned about me. Even as a young child, he was thinking about someone else.

OK, story derail over. Back to court of honor.

After each honoree's rep had spoken, someone then explained all the things that were required for a scout to reach Eagle Scout. There were a certain number of badges they had to earn and leadership positions they had to hold. They had to complete their Eagle Scout project. But in addition to that, they each had to appear before a Boy Scouts council and had to basically convince them that they were worthy of being bestowed the Eagle Scout title. (The husband later told me that it's nowhere near being an automatic process - he had a friend years ago who for whatever reason was not approved for Eagle Scout even though he had technically completed all the requirements, but his appearance before the council must not have gone well.) Earning the Eagle Scout title is a lot of work and takes years to complete (and reminded me somewhat of a thesis project), requiring dedication and commitment. Most of the honorees, including my nephew, are graduating seniors, so all of their Boy Scout commitments have to be done while they're also attending to their school work, family and any other outside interests. It's a huge accomplishment indeed.

The honorees were then administered their Eagle Scout pledge. There was then a presentation of awards to the parents of the honorees. As much work as the honorees themselves have to put in, the parents also have to be supportive and provide a lot of assistance during the entire process. The parents were asked to join the honorees, and then each honoree gave their mother an "Eagle Scout mom" pin and then gave their father an "Eagle Scout dad" pin. That was really nice to see. All of those parents were so obviously proud of their sons for their accomplishment, but it was also nice to see the parents being honored and thanked as well.

There was also a special presentation to the two scoutmasters of the troop from the parents of the honorees, for their hard work and assistance to each honoree. Each scoutmaster was given a plaque as a thank you. And it so happens that one of the scoutmasters is my brother, father to the Eagle Scout honoree nephew. He spoke for a minute about how much he enjoyed being a scoutmaster and how much he has loved seeing all the kids (including his own son) mature and learn and develop during the scouting process and working with them along the way. The other scoutmaster then spoke and echoed his sentiments. It was really nice to see and hear all that. I did find it amusing that my brother ended up being on both sides of that award, as an Eagle Scout honoree parent and as co-scoutmaster. I later asked him if he knew about the award ahead of time, and he said he did not. His wife, however, did know about it. That was pretty funny.

After a few more announcements, the ceremony was brought to a close. There was a reception held right afterward, so everyone had a chance to mingle and chat. The husband and I had a chance to talk to my nephew for a bit about his Eagle Scout process. The program had listed how many merit badges each honoree had (and they also had the badges sewn onto their sashes), and the husband and I had both noticed that all the boys had 20-something merit badges, except for one person - my nephew - who had 45. From what we were told, there are a number of specific badges which are required, and then the scout has to have a certain number of total badges. The husband and I had joked that since my nephew had his father as the co-scoutmaster, he pretty much *had* to participate in each badge activity. Can't very well blow it off when your dad's the one who's running it. We asked him about that, and he said that his father didn't force him to do any of the badges. His dad would tell him that he was running this, that and the other merit badge activity on whatever day, and if he wanted to go, he could. Usually, he would choose to go. So his dad/my brother gave him the opportunity to participate if he wanted to but left it up to him to decide, and he usually ended up deciding to participate. I thought that was pretty cool.

I also had a chance to talk to my other nephew for a bit. He's also in scouting, and he's three years younger than his Eagle Scout brother. The younger brother already has 10 of the 12 (I think those numbers are right) of the required badges, and he already has 20-something total badges, and he's well on his way to his own Eagle Scout process.

There was quite a nice turnout for the ceremony, with friends and family of each honoree in attendance. I particularly enjoyed the ceremony because it gave me an understanding of the Boy Scouts that I didn't have before, and it also gave me an appreciation for what the Boy Scouts teaches. I know that some people object to the religious affiliation that can be connected with the Boy Scouts, but even if you disregard that, the Boy Scouts teach kids very good values, especially concerning service to others and responsibility for yourself. Those are both very worthwhile lessons to learn.

I'm glad that I was invited to witness this ceremony, and I look forward to going again, when the younger nephew is an honoree.

Oh, and as far as the title of this blog, I'll admit I stole it - after the ceremony was over, they played The Steve Miller Band's song "Fly Like an Eagle".


Perky Mommy said...

It's so funny to read this today because I JUST returned from our first Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony for one of M's troop-mates. I could sit here for hours commenting, but I won't. ;)

Yes, you were right, there are 12 required badges and then the boys must complete at least 9 elective badges. If they finish before they're 18, they can continue to earn badges and get awards called "Eagle Palms." I think.

But anyway - I'm taking notes. I might need to bookmark this post. Because I'm going to have 3 of these things to plan and execute. ;)

dodie said...

Congratulations to your nephew! I knew it was a big deal but I really appreciate reading the details.