One of the traditional elements of some Eagle Scout Court of Honor programs is the description of the “Obligations of an Eagle Scout.” Over time, people have thoughtfully crafted this story to highlight five key principles of scouting that an Eagle should exemplify throughout the remainder of his life. To my knowledge, while this story is motivational and encouraging, it isn’t “official” language put out by the professional organization — in short, I’ve never seen it published in a handbook or field book.
I was recently invited to participate in a young man’s Eagle Court of Honor — to read the Obligations of an Eagle. While this wasn’t to replace his “Eagle Charge” (being delivered by his church’s Pastor) I was also invited to personalize the delivery of the traditional story.
I want to thank Michael Malone for his excellent book titled “Four Percent: The Story of Uncommon Youth in a Century of American Life” — I incorporated two paraphrased quotes from his book into the final edit, below.
The Obligations of an Eagle Scout for Peter’s ECOH:
Roughly four to five percent of all eligible scouts are recognized as Eagles. I say “recognized as Eagles” rather than “be awarded the Eagle badge” since you don’t so much earn the award as become a person described by the award. This is a fact that only the eagles in the audience and perhaps their parents will ever fully and completely appreciate. Somewhere along the scouting path a transformation occurs within the scout. He realizes that while scouting is fun, there’s a far greater reward in serving other people, doing one’s very best at all times and living a life called out by society as something odd or abnormal. To this Eagle, there’s nothing odd about embodying the scout oath and law in my daily life, but to society, well, they’ve crafted the term “boy scout” into a mocking phrase to describe someone unyielding in their devotion to doing what’s right at any and all costs.
Where the term “boy scout” may be seen as a description, “eagle scout” as a term is more of an explanation. As in “Well, he’s an Eagle scout” being used as shorthand to describe how this man, young or old, personifies the range of skills used to save a life or build a survival den or lead a team of professionals with seemingly no effort or hesitation, and in a way that delivers consistently desirable results.
The Obligation of an Eagle Scout is simply to never stop being an Eagle Scout. In fact, we have a saying; “Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle”.
Peter, between you and me, it can seem a daunting challenge – we’re called to a lifetime of assumed responsibility and perpetual risk of failure and consequential humiliation. You see, when someone breaks their arm, needs their luggage lashed to the roof of their car or some other obscure service, they look to the Eagle Scout to fix the problem, tend the wound or otherwise save them. This happens whether we’re feeling ready to jump in at that moment or not. After all, if we fail, it’s not just our personal failure, but it reflects on all Eagles everywhere. But take heart, Peter, it’s worth the risk because as Eagles we’ve conditioned ourselves to live by the motto “Be Prepared” and all the other ideals learned in scouting.
Tonight, I want to call your attention to five key principles, commitments or obligations we’ve mastered in scouting which will see our way through just about anything day-to-day living may throw at us.
First, an Eagle is committed to live with honor. He is someone whose standards are the highest. He knows he’s not perfect, and may make mistakes, but he focuses on striving to do what’s right and won’t ever give up. His honor is rooted in purity and we connect this concept to the “white stripe” in the eagle badge.
Secondly, an Eagle commits himself to be loyal. Not only to those in authority over him, but to those he will lead throughout his life. This is expressed in many ways, but we could sum them up in treating others as he would be treated, and never letting others sway him from his ideals. We recognize these traits in the blue stripe of the eagle badge.
“The Eagle Scout’s third commitment is to be courageous. He will face many challenges and obstacles throughout life. A ship in the harbor is safe, and sailing within sight of the shore is for the timid; however, the real courage of Eagles will take that ship into deep waters, and over the horizon to find rich undiscovered countries. The Eagle’s courage also assures that he will do what is right, no matter what other people say or do. The red of the Eagle badge represents courage.
“The fourth obligation of an Eagle Scout is to serve others, for a leader is above all else a servant. The practice of the daily good turn leads the Eagle to a lifetime of service and the banishment of selfishness. He knows that only in giving of himself does he give anything of value. Just as it always has, the scroll on his badge represents service.
“The final obligation of an Eagle Scout is to have vision. As a leader, he must now blaze his own trail. Just as a bald eagle soaring his above the ground can look far into the distance, so too the Eagle Scout must look far into the future. Many people will follow him; only with vision will he lead them in the right direction. The silver eagle hanging from his badge reminds the Eagle Scout of vision.
Peter, I know we share a common Christian faith practice, and I found a parallel to these commitments with the calling described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New International Version)
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
The Eagle and the Race Runner share several traits:
- They decided to run the race for the prize with deliberate planning and training, not just the fun of it.
- Whereas most runners compete for a tangible trophy — an award to commemorate that specific event,
- As Eagles, we run a daily race for the rest of our corporeal lives without any further recognition, awards or trophies.
- As Christians, we’re running for an eternal prize and we need to take our faith practice with the utmost solemnity on a daily basis.
- Finally, our actions will be evaluated and scrutinized by others for the rest of our lives — we must be vigilant to maintain our honor to avoid becoming disqualified along the way.
That said, being a good scout doesn’t qualify us as good Christians, but the learning of discipline through the scouting program helps us master our minds and bodies as we run that race described by Paul.
So to summarize, these are the obligations of the Eagle Scout: to pursue honor, loyalty, courage, service, and vision. With these qualities, he can lead his troop, his community, and his nation toward a better tomorrow. Peter, I know you well enough to be assured that you’ll demonstrate these commitments consistently throughout your life. Congratulations on becoming officially recognized as an Eagle tonight.