Last night I had the privilege of attending an Eagle Scout court of honor for the son of one of my former Scouts. As such events go it was pretty good, with some exceptions.
I have attended hundreds of Eagle Scout courts of honor. I have run and participated in many, including my own years ago and those of my two oldest sons more recently. I think I have a pretty good handle on what makes for a good one. Here are a few of my observations about how to make an Eagle court of honor great.
Arrange the event well in advance. Make sure you’ve got the venue. Make sure the setup is complete well before any guests arrive. Make sure the refreshments are taken care of and that they’re not the kind that make for messes that are difficult to clean up. Now let’s get to the actual program.
Focus on the boy and his accomplishment. This is the boy’s moment to stand in the spotlight and be recognized for working hard to reach an important goal. You can’t do this if you’re handing out a dozen Eagle awards in one court of honor. I’ve seen it work OK for two or three boys, particularly for boys that are close friends or relatives. You get too many recipients and it starts to feel for the boys like they’re just one of the crowd. It’s not exceptional any more.
It is OK to hold an Eagle court of honor as part of a regular court of honor, as long as the Eagle portion is set apart as something special AFTER the regular court of honor. Some units turn down the house lights and have the Eagle sit in the spotlight on the stand to transition to the Eagle court portion. But that’s just one idea.
Have the recipient talk about and show pictures of his Eagle Scout project. But don’t go overboard. A couple of minutes of this is enough. Make sure the boy practices giving this short speech so he doesn’t sound like a dork in front of the audience. He should know how to do this, having earned the Communications merit badge.
It is also vitally important to feature the importance and value of the rank of Eagle Scout. Everyone present should gain an understanding the culture and ethos of the rank. This doesn’t have to take too long. I have seen it done in many different ways, including short films, speeches by noteworthy Eagle Scouts, Native American dance programs (usually by the Order of the Arrow), short readings, using lighting effects to tell the story of each rank, etc. Go ahead and be creative, but don’t get crazy.
Whatever you do, DO NOT over program. In their desire to make the court of honor meaningful, people violate this rule more than any other. You want the youth in attendance to remain engaged. You want the other boys to think, “I want this experience for myself.” You cram too much stuff in and it starts to look gaudy, like somebody wearing too much jewelry.
So here’s the harsh reality. Don’t exceed 60 minutes. Fit everything, from opening flag ceremony to closing flag ceremony into 45-60 minutes. Adults have no problem lasting longer, but kids lose interest after that time no matter how good you think the content is.
This means you have to be choosy about what to include. It’s OK to have the guy from the VFW speak. It’s OK to have the live eagle presentation. (A friend calls this Chief Pooping Eagle, because it never fails that the bird defecates during the presentation. For the kids, that’s the most entertaining part of the event.) It’s OK to have the Order of the Arrow do a presentation. It’s OK to show a brief film or slide presentation (with BRIEF being the key here). It’s OK to have a notable political or business leader that is an Eagle Scout speak. But do ONE of these things. Two is pushing it unless you can guarantee that they’re both short. I’ve been to way too many courts where they try to fit in four or five of these things.
Special presentations are also nice. It’s common around here to have somebody representing the LDS stake leadership make a presentation. Last night they had a guy from the Mormon Battalion do a presentation. I’ve seen various military presentations, grandparent presentations, and presentations by mayors and other politicians. I’ve seen the organization that benefited from the Eagle project do a presentation. But honestly, every one of these people feel the need to say something. One special honor is enough. The more of these you do the less meaning each has. Less is more.
An appropriate Eagle court of honor needs to be marked by some solemnity. But it also needs an element of fun. People often get the solemnity thing down but forget that one of the major ingredients of the Scouting program is fun. By carefully planning the event, you can insert something fun that will not detract from the solemn portions of the event. Once again, be creative but don’t get carried away.
So here are my rules for a great Eagle Scout court of honor in a nutshell. Plan in advance. Set up in advance. Focus on the boy and his accomplishment. Focus on the award. Keep it short. Make it simple. Make it solemn. Make it fun. Have refreshments. Get everyone to help clean up. That’s it.
If you need more detailed instructions, you can see a variety of possible court of honor programs at USScouts.org and at EagleScout.org. Or just Google for Eagle court of honor and you’ll find plenty of info.
If you’re a BSA leader that has something to do with Eagle courts of honor, give my suggestions a try. If you’re a parent or relative of a boy that will be receiving his Eagle rank, share this information with his Scouting leaders. It might make the difference between a great court of honor and another dry, boring adult-oriented meeting.