Planning an Eagle Court Ceremony
If you have a prospective Eagle Scout in your life, you’ll have an Eagle Court of Honor ceremony coming up too. There are many ways to design an Eagle Court ceremony – and as long as you remember to confer the actual honor on the boys and give a nod to tradition and historical context, there is no wrong way to do it. But there are several steps that will make it easier, and having a script for the ceremony itself is invaluable. So, here’s the lowdown on the Eagle Court, including a sample Eagle Court script from a Northern California troop, whose traditions include a bagpiper, involvement by younger scouts and Eagle escorts.
Planning: Some troops designate an Eagle committee, parent volunteers whose jobs, year in and year out, include planning the ceremony and all its many accouterments. The rest of us, however, have to reinvent the wheel every time. If you’re not among the lucky few with seasoned, near-professional Eagle Court planners, you’ll want to start four to six months ahead of time, by gathering up your committee – the parents of all the boys who will receive their Eagle awards at the same Court of Honor. Ideally, this will be four to eight families. (Fewer Eagles mean more work per family – and more means your Court of Honor ceremony will be a 4-hour affair if you’re not careful.)
Now it’s time to divide the tasks…
Dividing the Tasks for an Eagle Court Ceremony
On the surface, an Eagle Court may seem like just another scout ceremony. But when you’re up to your eyeballs in the planning, it begins to feel suspiciously more like a wedding-sized task. So call a meeting of your Eagle families several months ahead of time, have everyone bring their calendars and start divvying up the nine main tasks, from venue reservations to recognition letters and reception planning.
- Venue: Have one family reserve the venue for the ceremony and reception – and a rehearsal the night before. This family will also arrange for any special speakers, including someone to do the invocation, if desired, and representatives from the council as well as the troop. They’ll coordinate with the senior patrol leader and scoutmaster to make sure the dates work with the troop calendar.
- Treasurer: It’s easiest if one person coordinates the finances for the Eagle court. Families submit their expense receipts – for program printing, for example, shadowboxes, bagpiper fees or reception supplies – to the treasurer. The treasurer tracks it all, and at the end, divides the costs equitably, sending bills to those who owe, and dispersing funds to those who are owed.
- Photographs and invitations: If you will be using photographs for the invitations, newspaper announcements or simply to display at the ceremony or reception, arrange for a photo shoot and a photographer. You can purchase unfolded Eagle invitations at the scout store and run them through your own printer, or have them professionally done. Affixing a group portrait of the new Eagles to the inside of the invitation is a nice touch. Tip: Print the invitations, then give them and the envelopes to the individual families to address and mail.
- Programs: If you’re doing programs, assign one family to print and assemble them, including, for example, the court of honor program; biographies of each boy, including Eagle project details; an image of the group and individual images of each boy; the history of the troop; and a roster of the troop’s Eagles. The program producer should also recruit younger scouts to serve as ushers, and hand out programs. Tip: If you will be submitting an announcement to your local newspaper, you can use edited-down versions of the boys’ bios for the press release.
- Ceremony coordinator: This individual scripts the ceremony, and arranges for any entertainment, including the troop bugler for taps, or a bagpiper for the ceremony. He or she makes sure everyone who needs to be at the rehearsal is there, then runs the rehearsal, much as a wedding planner would run the ceremony run-through, ensuring that everyone knows where to stand and what to do and when. He or she also does the last minute checks before the ceremony and cues the start.
Planning a Memorable Eagle Court: The Reception, Shadowbox & Letters
OK, you’ve booked the venue, sent out the invitations and planned the programs. Here are the other things that make an Eagle Court memorable. When you’re divvying up tasks, you’ll want to assign these four jobs too:
- Reception: Most troops throw a party or reception after the ceremony – punch and cookies or a sheet cake, or a full-fledged luncheon. Whichever route you take, you’ll still need someone to coordinate tables, centerpieces, paper goods, decor and food. Tip: Ask the parents of the Life Scouts to help with set up, serving and/or cleanup. It’s a big help for you, of course, but it also ensures that these future-Eagle parents attend the court of honor and see what lies ahead. They may grouse about it now, but they’ll be glad later! And tip #2: The scout store has Eagle logo balloons and paper goods, but they’re very pricey. Get a few, then mix them with plain blue or red items from your local party store.
- Letters and recognitions: One of the most memorable ways to commemorate this achievement is with letters of recognition and congratulations from regional, state and national leaders. U.S. senators, for example, are not only willing to write a letter of congratulations, they will also fly a flag over the U.S. Capitol in your son’s honor and then send the flag to him. Appoint one parent to contact the appropriate dignitaries several months before the ceremony, submit the requests and collect the letters. Tip: Tuck the letters into the boys’ Eagle binders, and tie with red and blue ribbons, so they can be presented during the ceremony. Give the Scoutmaster a complete list of letter writers, and an inspirational excerpt from one of the letters to read during the ceremony.
- Shadowboxes: Many families commemorate their son’s achievement by creating a shadowbox that displays merit badges, advancement insignia and memorabilia from High Adventure treks. If you are doing this, it’s easiest to have one family go get the frames – the Boy Scout store has small ones with a backdrop similar to Boy Scout uniform fabric, but any frame shop or big box store will have larger sizes. Stretch dark green felt or khaki twill to form a backdrop. It’s also easier if the shadowbox family picks up all the duplicate merit badges, so you don’t have half a dozen families all going on the same errand. But the bulk of the expense for this project, which can run $50-$80 per scout, are those badges. Make sure everyone – especially the shadowbox family – understands that beforehand! Tip: Make the shadowbox assembly a group project. Gather all the parents at one house, and break out the hot glue guns, wine and cheese.
- Multimedia slide shows: Having a multimedia slide show or video of the boys’ progress from tiny Tiger Cubs to Eagles can be a really lovely touch at the Eagle Court or during the reception. Assign one family to assemble the slide show, and arrange for the screen, projector, and any other equipment.