I mentioned in a post in March that I was looking for the speech I gave at my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony. I’d found pictures of him at that event, but I didn’t know where the speech was.
In another monumental cleaning project a couple of weeks ago, I found the speech! He was sixteen at the time and is now more than twice that age. Re-reading the speech took me back to a turbulent time in our lives. I thought of trying to summarize the speech in this post, but I worked so hard on it at the time, that I think I will just reproduce it here:
I’m in a difficult position tonight—J____ asked me to make this speech personal, but not to embarrass him. That’s a fine line that I’m not sure a mother can walk. But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to give J____ some advice in the presence of so many witnesses. I have a lot to tell J____ because in this short month of February 1998, J has reached many milestones—he turned 16 . . . he got his driver’s license . . . he was confirmed in our church last weekend . . . and he has now received his Eagle award.
As I reflected on the place of Scouting in J____’s growth, I boiled down my advice to J____ into three themes—pride, prudence, and perseverance.
First, on pride. Many people are proud of you this evening, J____—your father and I, your grandparents, your Scout leaders, and many other friends and family members. Even your sister is probably proud of you tonight. But, as you recognized in the personal statement you wrote for the program, what is most important is whether you are proud of yourself.
When I speak of pride, I mean your own confidence that you have done a job well—and done the job through your own hard work. Your Scouting road has taken ten years from the time you started as a Tiger Cub, and you have achieved a lot during that time. Most of your achievements have been your own doing, and you are justified in taking pride in a job well done.
But along with pride should come a sense of humility. No matter how much energy you invest in yourself, other people invest in you as well. I look around this room at your family and friends and your Scouting leaders, and I am thankful for all they have contributed to your success. You would not be here without them, and they deserve your appreciation, along with mine. I was pleased that you recognized their contributions in your personal statement, and I hope that as you succeed in the future, you always remember to thank those who have helped you along the way. Pride, tempered with humility, will serve you well in life.
My second theme is prudence—by which I mean thinking through the problem before you start, and planning for how to overcome the obstacles. Scouting has enabled you to try many different things—such as camping, backpacking, climbing, and canoeing. Your Scout leaders have taught you to do these things safely—to plan ahead and to be prepared for what might happen.
As you know, I am an avid proponent of planning, and, like your Scout leaders, I try to make sure you think ahead. In the years to come, you won’t always have me to force you to plan. In fact, now that you are 16 and are driving without me, I already need to be able to rely on your good judgment and prudence. I hope that when I’m not there to give you my excellent and prudent advice, you will think back on the Scouting motto, and always “Be Prepared.” You’ve got a wonderful mind, and are capable of doing anything you want, if you exercise prudence and foresight.
My third theme is perseverance—keeping on when the going is hard. You have had to persevere to get here tonight—through times that were difficult, and through times when you didn’t want to continue with Scouts. You worried about getting your Lifesaving merit badge. You didn’t know whether you could get through the Order of the Arrow ordeal. You had other commitments like debate and dramatics—and thought you didn’t have time for Scouts. Despite these difficulties, you kept at it, and you have now achieved the pinnacle of success in Scouting.
You have many difficult goals ahead of you—such as doing well in college and building relationships with a spouse and children, and being successful in the career you choose. The road to your dreams and ambitions will not be smooth. However much your father and I might want to make the road easier, we can’t. Your own perseverance is the only way to get there. The good news is that you can now reflect back on your Scouting experience to tell yourself that you have done it before, and can do it again.
I recently ran across a quote from poet and playwright W.A. Auden that explains what I mean by prudence and perseverance:
Those who will not reason perish in the act;
Those who will not act perish for that reason.
What this means is that you must think things through before you act—you must be prudent. But you also cannot stop with thinking; you must in the end make a decision, and follow through on that decision—you must persevere. Your Scouting experience has readied you for both reasoning and acting—for prudence and perseverance. Because of what you have learned in your life thus far—in large part through Scouting, I am confident that you will have many future successes in which you will take pride.
I want to end with another quote, this time from Rudyard Kipling. You might recall your father and me reading Kipling’s “Just So” stories to you about the time you started as a Tiger Cub. Kipling also wrote a poem entitled “If.” Every line in that poem has something to say about growing up, but the following lines seemed to match most closely what I have been trying to say about pride, prudence, and perseverance:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting, too; . . .
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same; . . .
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will that says to them: “Hold on!” . . .
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
And to those lines of Kipling’s, I add one more of my own:
Godspeed, J____ on the journey you’ve begun.
My son is much further along his journey now, though I hope he still has most of it ahead of him. He’s done well, and as Mother’s Day approaches, I hope that both he and my daughter realize that the thoughts I expressed in that speech almost twenty years ago still apply to both of them. Every day.
What advice have you given to your children?