A Special Speech

I share my work on this blog to help others in nonprofit marketing and communications. A speech I spent a great deal of time on is below.

My son, Jonathan, asked me to present his Eagle Scout rank to him during a Court of Honor on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. It’s more than 1,800 words. But you only get one chance to do something like this for your son. Enjoy.

It’s a tremendous honor to present the rank of Eagle Scout to any young man. The feeling is indescribable when your son asks you to present the award to him. And when I learned I would be joining Mark Branaman as he presents the rank to his son, Dean… let’s just say this will be a day that will be long remembered by our families, friends and the Scouts, parents and leaders of Troop 778.

You’ve seen how their moms were their first Scout leaders. Mark and I became assistant Scoutmasters when Jonathan followed Dean into this troop. Mark and I bunked together during the troop’s 50-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail two years ago. He is a loyal and steadfast leader. Michelle and I are blessed to have Mark and Stacey as true friends.

I’ve thought a lot about the Appalachian Trail hike while preparing for this day. An Eagle Court of Honor is a mountain-top experience. Up on the mountain, you enjoy the view and see how far you’ve traveled. But today also is like the final day of a long hiking trek. You take your pack off for the last time. It feels good to get the weight off your shoulders and hips. You eat regular food instead of trail food.

But you find yourself looking back and reliving countless memories and experiences. Some were fun, others were hard. You learned new lessons and relived previous lessons.

Every young man who earns the rank of Eagle Scout completes a unique journey. It can never be duplicated. When Jonathan and Dean are awarded their medals today, each will remember the experience in their own unique way. I challenge both of you in the coming days to take a few quiet moments and reflect on your Scouting journey. Hold the medal in your hands. Close your eyes and recall the lessons you learned.

Here are the words that came to me during my meditation. Persistence, Courage, Character, and Humility. Where did those come from?

Jonathan stands on the shoulders of great grandparents on both sides of our families who came to this country from Germany and Ireland before World War I and during World War II. They came through Ellis Island with a mere suitcase packed with their life’s belongings. The qualities you possess were passed to you from previous generations. Now, you have a responsibility to continue this legacy. Your great grandparents left a legacyof spirited determination. A hundred years from today, your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren may look back on a second-generation Eagle Scout who worked to make his community, country and world a better place.

Persistence. Few people know this, but Jonathan was born with hypotonia or a lack of muscle tone. When he was less than a year old, neurologists told us he may never kick a soccer ball or carry a backpack. But Jonathan was persistent. He responded so well to therapy that by the time he started kindergarten, his muscle strength and coordination was equal to other boys his age. In athletics, he never gave up. I looked back on some team photos of his soccer teams that I coached. We never had a winning season. Some years, we only scored one or two goals. But Jonathan and at least five other young men on those teams earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

Jonathan again displayed determination on his high school cross country team. His coaches wondered if he would be able to complete the three-mile race his first year. He never won a race, but his character, leadership and persistence convinced his coaches to name him team captain during two seasons.

Character. Mrs. Starnes became furious one day when she returned to elementary school classroom and smelled something sweet. One of her fifth graders had disrupted her desk. Visibly upset, she reminded the students about the rule that no one was to touch or take anything on her desk. And yet, someone had taken the lid off her tube of lip gloss and left it on the edge of her desk. Who would take her lip gloss and use it?

The room was silent. Finally, Jonathan stood up. He looked around at his classmates and then at his teacher. “Mrs. Starnes, I’m sorry, it was me. I ran out of glue stick and I used the tube on your desk to paste my pictures on my poster.” As he held up his project, all of the art work came sliding off.

I share that story as an example of courage, conviction and character.

A few years later, our family decided we would help our neighbors who were battling flood waters by sand bagging in Old Town Fenton. It was Good Friday, the last day of spring break, and Jonathan wanted to sleep late. But his mother prodded him out of bed and we were the first volunteers to sign in at 8 a.m. We were filling sand bags outside of Joe Clarke’s Restaurant and Bar when a reporter and camera crew from NBC Nightly News came by. They started interviewing Michelle. She told the story of how she was unable to help with sand bags during the great flood of 1993 because she was pregnant and on bed rest. But the child she had was here today, filling sand bags. I’m thinking to myself, Wow! What a great story! This is going to make the national news.

Then the cameraman pivoted his tripodand the reporter pointed her microphone toward Jonathan. She asked the question, “So, what is it like to be a child born during the great flood of ’93 and to be helping sand bag now as a young man?” He turned to her and said, “Well, I’m just glad to be doing all I can to save the liquor store.”

Jonathan was at his influential best during the year he was chaplain aid for the troop. He enjoyed leading nondenominational services. But he failed to prepare a service and forgot his Bible on one campout. As Scouts and leaders formed a large circle of chairs in the cabin, Jonathan noticed a pile of unclaimed clothing thrown in a corner. In a few minutes, he was leading a devotional with pair of long johns, a stocking cap, t-shirt, one sock and one glove in the middle of the circle. His lesson of how many small things come together to make a whole left the leaders scratching their heads and wondering how a 13-year-old could think of using lost-and-found items to pull together a lesson in minutes that would gently challenge their faith or open their eyes.

There’s no more challenging job in Scouting than to serve as Senior Patrol Leader of this troop during a week of summer camp. During Jonathan’s year, he insisted that no leaders coach, contribute or in any way influence the youth leaders. We had close to 18 Scouts who were attending summer camp for the first time. There were many challenges, obstacles and problems for all the patrols and youth leaders.

On the last night of camp, Jonathan came to me in tears. After a long talk with his Scoutmaster, he had the humility to admit that he had made a significant strategic mistake. Instead of openly and publicly shunning the assistant Scoutmasters and parents, he realized that he should have used their knowledge, experience and insights to coach the youth leaders. It still would have been a Scout-run troop. But a week of Scouting—the program known as the game with a purpose—could have been played better and more meaningful lessons could have been learned if coaches were allowed to coach and the team captain encouraged the players to listen. But it was a lesson that he will never forget and a lesson that too few young people get the opportunity to experience and learn.

Jonathan and Dean worked together, side-by-side, throughout their youth. Two years ago, Dean was the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader when Jonathan was Senior Patrol Leader. But in reality, they were co-leaders. Dean helped Jonathan in areas of weakness and Jonathan assisted Dean where he needed help. Each complimented the other. They were never judgmental, jealous or envious of the other. It has been a very special relationship. Jonathan, if you don’t know it already, you are very blessed to have a friend like Dean Branaman. And chances are, your appreciation of that true friendship will be more valued as the years go by.

Today is a benchmark in your life. Today, you stand at a pinnacle at the end of your youth. Some memories will fade, but you will always remember something about this day.

The final memory I will leave you with is from our high adventure trek to the Florida Sea Base. We finished our SCUBA certification in a flooded lead mine in Bonne Terre, Missouri, so we would have more time for diving in Florida. One safety technique you must complete 30 feet under water is to help someone who runs out of air. You must help the person without airby giving them your air supply. Then, you must be able to reach behind your air tank, find your secondary air source, and successfully restore your air supply.

This is the ultimate act of unselfishness and goes against basic human instinct. You give away your ability to breathe so someone else can breathe. Jonathan had no trouble completing this requirement in the cold water of an underground cavern or in the warm waters in the diving tank in Florida. But my prayer is that he remembers the underlying value and message of this exercise—always putting others first.

Jonathan and Dean have not yet experienced the hardest part of being an Eagle Scout. The most challenging part is living up to the expectations that come with being an Eagle Scout. The award is presented to you, not for what you have done, but what you are expected to do.

There will be times ahead when you will meet failure and disappointment. There will be times ahead when you experience grief and discouragement. These are inevitable parts of life. You will not live a full life without handling these obstacles.
During those times, it will be easy to quit or feel sorry for yourself. Don’t give in to this temptation. Instead, I pray you gain strength by looking back on your Trail to Eagle. Then, go out and find someone who needs your help. Give unselfishly of your time, talents or treasure. You earned the medal you will wear today. But it is at that time that you will fully appreciate what it means to be an Eagle Scout.

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