I know you didn’t quite understand what you were watching the other night at the Jamboree.
I can imagine the excitement of the moment, the energy of being with that many others who love the Scouts as much as you do, and what it must have been like to have a President actually speaking to you in person. I bet it was like a rock concert; with the noise and the lights and the crowds—and it can be easy to get caught up in that.
I understand that then as always, you looked to your adult leaders as a cue on how to respond in that moment; that you applauded when they applauded, booed when they booed, laughed when they laughed. It wasn’t wrong. That’s what good Scouts do. That’s what good young men should do: they trust adults around them to show them the way. I wish they had done better.
I know that you probably didn’t have any clue what the President was saying as he pinballed from talk of loyalty, to stories of cocktail parties, to rants about fake news, to asking “Who the h*ll wants to talk about politics?”—to then immediately talking about politics. I’m sure you were wondering what it all was about as he rambled on and on about Hillary Clinton, and news coverage of the crowd, and of his critics. I was wondering too. Lots of adults were. We all felt uncomfortable for you.
I know you likely don’t understand what Obamacare even is, or what stopping it has to do with you upholding the values of the Scouts. (The President doesn’t understand what it is either—and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Scouts, by the way.) It should have never been mentioned here. This night should have been about you and all you’ve done and what you are becoming—but he made it about himself. Insecure adults tend to do that, you’ll find. They will mask their insecurities by bragging and bullying and seeking attention, and you should resist doing this as it never helps anyone. When you know who you are you can rest in that, without needing to prove your importance or belittle someone else. That quiet confidence is a priceless gift, so seek after it. Humility is always the posture worth taking toward people, especially those who have less than you, those who are vulnerable or hurting, those you might fear or dislike. Treat them all as worthy of the same respect.
You may not know this, but President Obama was a Boy Scout too, and he understands why you do this, how much it matters to you, and just how much you love your country. He loves it too. He believed in the things you believe in. That’s why he tried to make sure everyone who gets sick can have the same chance to be well. That’s what Obamacare is, in case you still weren’t sure. Ask your parents about this.
I know the oath you take to God and country, to others, and to yourself. I understand that as a Boy Scout, you strive every single day to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful,thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent—and you should.
That oath matters and those aspirations are the right ones. They are more needed and more rare than ever. As you grow and find your place in this world, you will be called upon to live out these ideals even when it is most difficult, even when it seems like no one else is, even when the biggest rewards seem to be for those doing just the opposite. Some days the crowd may be ugly, and you may feel like no one else cares to do that right thing: keep doing it. Integrity isn’t always popular—it’s just the wise choice. You don’t owe the crowd anything.
As you become adults, you will be challenged to be men of decency and goodness and honor, despite the fact that it is often the less traveled and far more treacherous road. Trust me though, it is the road that leads to the best version of yourselves there is, and it will make this world better—which is why we’re all here. We’re on this planet for a few brief moments, to try and leave a legacy that will help others. That’s why you’re a Scout, so build your legacy starting with this day.
I don’t want you to feel bad about the other night, in fact I wanted to apologize for the way you got stuck between lots of adults who weren’t giving you their best, who weren’t thinking of you as much as they should be, who made it all about themselves. We adults get it wrong sometimes too, when we get caught up in the noise and the lights and the crowds. We sometimes fail to be our best selves. Hopefully when we do, we try to own our mistakes instead of blaming someone else.
Keep thinking about that oath, keep striving to live by those laws, and challenge one another to make this world more compassionate, more kind, and more honest than you found it. Lead well, by refusing to be anything less than you are capable of being. You are a once-in-history human being, so live accordingly.
That’s how you’ll be a good Scout.
That’s how you’ll be a light in a dark place.
That is how you will make America great.