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The First Eagle Scout

Here's a great speech for any scout or civic group. Originally delivered at an Eagle Scout ceremony. About 840 words.  Six minutes. Feel free to use this without attribution.

When Robert Baden-Powell stepped off the ship in New York harbor in January 1912, he must have been pleased by what he saw.

Baden-Powell, for those who don't know, was a British war hero and author of a series of pamphlets entitled "Scouting for Boys". Five years earlier, in the summer of 1907, he gathered 22 boys from every class of British society for a nine-day campout at Brownsea Island, off the southern English coast. His aim was to see if his concept of Boy Scouting would actually work.

And it did! The scouting movement quickly spread throughout England and, soon, across the Atlantic. Where it flourished ...

... as Baden-Powell noticed as he walked down the gangplank, on which 40 uniformed boy scouts stood at attention in two columns; one on either side.

Baden-Powell stopped to greet each boy, asking each his name and rank. But Baden-Powell's face "lit up", according the one account, when he stopped at the last boy in line and noticed the youngster's large, gold-colored first-class pin and the many badges on his sleeve. Baden-Powell grabbed the boy's hand and asked about his merit badges. The boy, a modest fellow who rarely spoke about his accomplishments, turned red with embarrassment as the founder of the Boy Scout movement continued to address him while the official adult welcoming committee could only stand and wait.

Whatever Baden-Powell said must have inspired the tall 16-year-old. Because seven months later that young man became our nation's first Eagle Scout.

Arthur Rose Eldred was born in New York in 1895. His father soon died, and Arthur was raised by his mother in Oceanside, on Long Island. Arthur's scoutmaster was actually his older brother, Hubert, who started Boy Scout Troop 1 in November 1910. The meetings were held in the family's barn. Each boy earned the money for his uniform, which made Troop 1 one of the first to be completely uniformed. Which was why they were among those chosen for the honor guard that greeted Baden-Powell.

Like today's Eagle Scouts, Arthur earned 21 merit badges: Civics, Cooking, Cycling, Electricity, Firemanship, First Aid to Animals, Gardening, Handicraft, Horsemanship, Interpreting of French, Life Saving, Painting, Pathfinding, Personal Health, Poultry Farming, Public Health, Swimming, Chemistry, Dairying, Business, and Plumbing.

Think about it, scouts: You're told that Scouting has taught the same values for 100 years. And, as you can see, scouts have earned many of the same merit badges for 100 years. Good things never go out of style. Remember that.

In the same month that Arthur earned his Eagle, he rescued a fellow scout from drowning and was awarded the BSA Honor medal.

Arthur graduated from Cornell, where he ran track and cross-country, and served aboard a US Navy submarine chaser in World War I. As a county agent in the 1920s he was credited with establishing the Atlantic City municipal market for farm products.

"Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle." That tradition started with the first Eagle. Arthur volunteered in the scouting movement long after he was a scout. He was a board of review examiner and chairman of his son's troop committee. He was elected to his county's council the local and regional school boards. He promoted produce transportation for the Reading Railroad and later became manager of the Motor Carrier Committee of the Eastern Railroad Association, a position he held until his death in 1951.

More than two million scouts have followed Arthur Eldred and earned their Eagle. A recent Wall Street Journal column expressed it beautifully: "What they have in common is that they chose a life of achievement and assumed leadership roles at a very early age."

If you sum the hours devoted to all of those Eagle Scout projects over the years, it becomes the single greatest youth service initiative in history. If you sum the individual lifetime accomplishments of those two million men who set the example and distinguished themselves, it explains why the United States will remain the greatest nation on earth for the next 100 years.

Here's something else they had in common: At age 10 or 11 they were handed a verse to memorize. Which they did. And learned from it. And lived it. Here's the verse:

On my Honor
I will do my Best
To do my Duty
To God and My Country
To Obey the Scout Law
To Help Other People at All Times
To keep myself Physically Strong, Mentally Awake and Morally Straight.


Goodness begets greatness. And that never goes out of style.

This ceremony is not only to honor the accomplishment of __________, our newest Eagle Scout, but also to give each of you scouts a chance to learn from the example that Arthur Eldred and  _________ have set for you.

(Turn to the Eagle Scout)

___________, let me be the first to say: you have some very big shoes to fill! And, judging from what I've heard about you, there's no doubt that you will!

 Notes: The verse at the end is the Scout Oath, easily recognized by anyone who's ever been a scout.  The 12 points of the Scout Law are Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent. The Wall Street Journal Article Op-Ed is dated August 1, 2012. The history of Arthur Eldred and the account of Baden-Powell's arrival were derived from a well-researched article found on eaglescout.org. The definitive Baden-Powell biography and a history of the scouting movement's origin can be found in William Hillcourt's The Two Lives of a Hero.