Thank you, Scott (Grey).
It’s a real pleasure and privilege to be with you this evening. To the Eagle Scouts, their proud parents and selfless leaders and generous mentors, thank you for the opportunity to join with you.
One very important less I’ve learned after seven years in Washington is that there are three golden rules for after-dinner speeches. The first is to have a humorous introduction … the second is to have a short and interesting conclusion … and the third most essential golden rule is to keep the introduction and conclusion as possible.
An Eagle Scout, his Grandmother, and the “Smartest Man in the World” were on a plane whose engines failed. That was bad news … what was worse is that there were three passengers … but only two parachutes. Well, as you can imagine … things got a bit exciting. Without a word, and with total disregard for the welfare of his fellow passengers ... the Smartest Man in the World grabs one and jumps out. The plane was in a sharp dive by now, screaming toward earth and things were beginning to look pretty desperate. The Grandmother, however, was both brave and wise, and told her grandson, “I’m old and you’re young. I’ve lived a long, full life … you take the last parachute.” The Eagle Scout, who had remained calm throughout all of this, shook his head and smiled, “Grandma, it’s okay, he said, “there are two parachutes left … The Smartest Man in the World just jumped out with my backpack”.
Now, nobody would ever accuse me of being the Smartest Man in the World … but like the wise old grandmother in the story … I’ve been around an awfully long time, have been involved in scouting for a number of years … and I know that Scouting has enriched the lives of generations of young men who, in turn, have enriched and contributed immensely to this great Nation.
Eagle Scouts in particular have achieved something quite extraordinary … Eagle Scouts, you’ve earned a very rare distinction that marks you as among the most capable … the most hard driving… the most committed … and, the most talented young men in this great country. And with that comes an obligation … America will now look to you … for your entire lives … for your leadership. Great achievement is now expected of you.
My last two bosses, Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Gates, are both Eagle Scouts. The service academies and our military are replete with Scouts … and Eagle Scouts … as are the halls of corporate America, the halls of justice, astronauts, civic leaders, business leaders of all kinds and, in fact, every walk of life in America carries the mark of Scouting. And the secret why Scouts and Eagle Scouts, in particular, are so successful is astonishingly simple yet also quite profound:
The secret is knowing and always living the profound scout oath, scout law, scout motto and scout slogan … best summarized in the oath: Duty to God and country, duty to other people and duty to self. I’ve never forgotten them, and they still guide my life today. It’s also the foundation of our military. Did you ever consider that the operative word in the phrase … military service … is service … or that our military academies are called … service academies?
You are extraordinarily blessed as you now stand at the threshold of a time of great opportunity, of challenge … a time of rapid change … a new age of discovery fueled by an absolute explosion of human knowledge.
Some of you may have heard of Moore’s law … that describes the seemingly infinite exponential growth in the complexity and capacity of semiconductors. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the law… you’re certainly all well-acquainted with its products: computers, video games, Palm Pilots, cell phones, IPods, and all the other electronics we have today.
They’re all commonplace things today that simply were unimaginable when I was your age. When I was growing up in Baltimore… no one had a television… because there was no television … let alone an MP3 player. Can you imagine a world without television… without an X-Box?
It really was the Dark Ages and I can tell you there were far fewer reasons not to do your homework in those days… but we still found a way. But, in the future, this will be the Dark Ages as you move science, technology and industry to new frontiers.
As it turns out, technology and the entire store of human knowledge… also increase exponentially. At least one theorist believes that in the 21st century… this century… we won’t witness a normal 100 years of progress, but rather closer to all the progress of all recorded time. It’s a staggering proposition… and altogether difficult to comprehend … but entirely possible.
What it means to you and your generation is that the sky really is the limit. Don’t ever believe that genuine adventure and discovery are things only of the distant past. All the adventure you could ever bargain for and the promise of new discovery still wait for you.
Maybe not like Lewis and Clark, but in new fields yet to be discovered … if you’re bold enough to seize the day.
All, however, is not sunshine and roses…. This is also a time of challenge for America…. The nation’s security and the freedom on which it is founded are under siege by a determined enemy… and we are engaged in a war that will not end soon. Much work remains to be done. Because of who you are… as evidenced by your achievement and by virtue of your tremendous potential… you are uniquely qualified to contribute to the fight for freedom… in whatever capacity that best suits you… and, through your service, sustain this nation… and in so doing… make our world a better place.
You have an obligation … not just to enjoy the fruits of freedom and liberty … but to ensure the survival of freedom and liberty for future generations.
President Reagan left the White House before any of you Scouts were born… but back in 1986, he told a gathering of young Americans, not unlike yourselves, “Out beyond our present horizons lay whole new continents of possibility, new worlds of hope waiting to be discovered. We’ve traveled far, but we’ve only begun our journey.
There are hungry people to feed, sicknesses to cure, and new worlds to explore. And this is no time for small plans or shrinking ambitions. We stand on the threshold of an epic age, an age of technological splendor and an explosion of human potential—an age for heroes. And I think I’m seeing many of them right here in this room – tonight.
God bless all of you … and God bless America.