President Cropper's Remarks at the Distinguished Eagle Scout Ceremony
January 5, 2019 – Cal Maritime President Tom Cropper received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award – an award established to acknowledge Eagle Scouts who have received extraordinary national-level recognition, fame or eminence within their field, and have a strong record of voluntary service for their community.
To the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council of the BSA, led by John Fenoglio, who invested significant effort in nominating me for this award and who have created this special day for me, my family and friends.
To the staff, faculty and cadets of Cal Maritime who have presented their warm greetings and congratulations… and to many of them, like Chelsea McClain, who toiled to deliver this special event on campus.
To my family here today, the Rollo kids – who think of our campus as a 2nd playground, my daughter Ashley – whose 34 years of service to our Nation began as a military brat and continued as a military mom, my son-in-law Patrick – an underachiever who earned his Eagle Scout in 8th grade and went onto the Naval Academy and adventure as a Navy SEAL, my son Tommy – who in the same mold is an Eagle Scout, joins my late father in service to our Nation in the US Army, and like his brother-in-law decided to become a snake-eater – OK, Green Beret – and graduates two weeks from today. And my wife Heather, who assisted – even secretly conspired with - the council folks to drag out facts and artifacts of my Scouting days.
Thank you as well to many special friends, some lifelong friends – the kind of people who define true friendship: Colonel Dandy Don and Devon Borje- West Pointer turned Marine Corps aviator, Cal Poly President Jeff and Sharon Armstrong, Cal State East Bay President Leroy and Barbara Morishita – four people who Heather and I adore - each serving California higher education impressively. Dr. Jeff Yablon, retired neurosurgeon from Napa and Trisha. Tom and Libby Edwards, who beyond our mutual – and their incredible - dedication to the Maritime Academy, have been fast friends and guardian angels to our children.
To our guest speakers: Colonel Mark Giannini, my best friend in high school, Heather and Tom's best man at our wedding, an Eagle Scout, current Southwest pilot, and a textbook, living example of the words persistence and grit.
Admiral Pete Daly, my friend, mentor, and truthfully - the finest boss I had in 31 years in the US Navy – current CEO of the US Naval Institute in Annapolis, whose seemingly unlimited intellectual gifts – sprinkled generously with a wicked sense of Midwest humor burnished at Holy Cross- have dramatically improved the reach and impact of maritime literature and thought.
Thank you – all of you – for joining us today.
I imagine it is fitting that we are gathered at America's only Pacific-based maritime academy for a Scouting event. The nexus between Scouting and maritime actually started in the very early years. In fact, the very 1st cover of Boys' Life painted by Norman Rockwell was "Scout at the Wheel" in September 1913. That's a pretty good start!
There is another connection, in that mariners abide by a moral code of conduct and a set of laws of the sea that have been written over human history. I would suggest that the same approach is at play in Scouting. But Scouting offers something else: a gift.
And today I'd like to talk to you about that gift. Here it is:
"On my honor I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
Those are nice words. The questions I'd pose to you today: do they really matter? Are they artifacts of a bygone era? After all, we live in a modern age with rapid change and, well, times are just different. Do these words represent an antiquated notion of manhood, or can they offer a compass for navigating one's life toward true happiness? I believe that these are questions that must be confronted head-on….and I believe this because I am an alumnus of the Boy Scouts of America.
And I have benefitted so much… both personally and professionally…from my experiences and development in Scouting. Scouting for me was, quite frankly, a gift. A gift of love from my father. I did not understand at the time how incredibly it would change the trajectory of my life…and I cannot offer anything but a rousing endorsement of its timeless principles…as embodied in its simple but powerful oath, law, motto and slogan.
I have many fond memories of my days in Scouting and I marvel…and I am thankful… at how well-prepared it made me for my first career as a naval aviator.
Landing a fighter jet at nearly 160mph…at night…on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier is… pretty sporty. It requires training, a little skill…and a certain ability to overcome fear. The Navy gave me training and helped develop my skill…but Scouting taught me to habitually confront fear and to keep going despite it. You might think that I learned to act in the face of fear while walking across rope bridges over rivers, backpacking 120 miles along the C&O Canal or jumping off the high platform into a pool 15 feet below. But the place I first learned to overcome fear was on my first campout. Who knew at 12 years old that ghost stories weren't really true? The older boys had concocted a perfect legend for our particular camp area and I still remember laying in my tent absolutely petrified that the eerie green "Ghost of Ruby"…perfectly portrayed off in the distance by a green Scout poncho - lit from the inside by a flashlight…would make her way to my tent flap to end my young life.
And I learned so many other things in Scouts that made my early Navy flight training much easier. My first two months in training were in water and land survival training. I had a tremendous advantage in confidence when I had to jump into the pool in full flight gear and drownproof…I already knew how: thank you Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges. I had to swim a mile with any stroke: thank you Mile Swim at Camp Nanticoke. I had to live off the land for 3 days in the Florida panhandle: thank you Survival merit badge. I had to navigate myself over land for 10 miles to get to my rescue point: thank you Orienteering training for Second Class. And when I got home, I had a great meal…no, not Cooking merit badge…it was my newlywed bride…and after 38 years of wedded bliss I want to thank the 2 points of the Scout Law that have guided me this far: cheerful and obedient!
I learned so much more in Scouting that transcended the actual skill-building…and which helped me as a leader.
I learned how to succeed. There's an expression I've adopted to describe this phenomenon that Scouting inculcates - "Winners win." The timely reward system in Scouts that recognizes measurable changes in skill and attitude begets a very powerful lifelong behavior…the habit of succeeding. (Here's my Totin' Chip card from 1972.) When a scout learns that success comes from studying, practicing and then mastering a particular skill…and when this studying and practicing and mastering are repeated many times in many topics…a young man develops the habit of success that can carry him forward for life!
I also learned how to lead. You are probably familiar with the quote, "In order to be something, you have to do something." How absolutely true in Scouting... and in life. One can think a lot about getting a merit badge, or achieving a certain Scout rank…but thinking without acting yields little to nothing. Of course, acting without thinking is generally worse…and I can remember a few times on campouts or on hikes when that painful lesson might have played out disastrously without the thoughtful intervention of our scoutmasters. I learned, maybe just by osmosis, how to let people find their way and when to step in… I call that judgement…. and I learned that in Scouts too.
I learned how to walk the talk. Today, as a university president, when facing any number of opportunities and challenges, I rely upon a few cornerstone principles I learned in Scouting …embodied in four things that we as Scouts said together:
The Motto: Be Prepared. Preparation requires thoughtfulness, insight, and the wisdom and counsel of others.
The Slogan: Do a Good Turn Daily. This is the Golden Rule…love thy neighbor as thyself...put into action…when you really show your neighbors you love them by doing something nice…each day.
The Scout Oath and the Scout Law: On my honor I will do my best: on MY honor, my highest self, the greatest of the inner me giving my all…not just thinking about it, not saying I will try…saying I WILL …do more than just enough…more than a strong effort…I will give you my very best to do my duty to God and my country: My highest calling will be found in service. I will serve my God, my Nation, my community, and my fellow citizens with daily actions that demonstrate the truest sense of service. Service requires vigilance…and sacrifice. Service matters. Real service embodies commitment with no expectation of anything in return. It means service to something beyond self, something beyond the tangible, and often something beyond the predictable. And real service brings the greatest successes – every time!
To obey the Scout Law: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I've often wondered why they were in this particular order. The last three were added to Sir Baden-Powell's earlier version over one hundred years ago by James West, the national commissioner. But the first law… trustworthy… is probably first for a reason. Without trustworthiness, the rest of the law would not operate.
To help other people at all times: To help people I don't know, not just my friends. To help them when THEY need my help… not just when I am willing to help them.
And keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight: I cannot be complacent or apathetic. Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1668, "Justice is a rule of reason by which we are forbidden to do anything destructive to our life, and consequently a law of nature." Body, mind and soul often require the sustenance of a discipline that will bring happiness.
Walking the talk is not easy. It never has been. Peer pressure is not new. But having the opportunity to act, not just think, when it comes to how a young man will respond to that pressure is among the greatest gifts of Scouting. Because some day, in some way, every man will be faced with a crucial decision that tests him. Will he get it right? If that man has been a Scout, I believe that he will. And if he does not get it right, he'll know it deep inside.
So let me close with those questions I posed earlier. Does the Scout Oath really matter? Yes. Is it an artifact of a bygone era? Does it represent an antiquated notion of manhood? No.
Each young boy who embarks on his journey to manhood through Scouting is armed with the very best preparation for life's curveballs. As they each step out into a world that at times defies their attempts to discern meaning, they will have guideposts to help light their way. They will have experiences, skills and insights that will bring them routine successes and allow them to navigate their lives toward the good, the true and the beautiful.
It would only be arrogance or ignorance that would lead one to believe that the challenges facing us today are so dramatically different than those experienced by mankind from the ancient Greeks to the Founding Fathers to today. Learning to succeed, learning to lead and learning to walk the talk have mattered in every day of human history.
And it is through the power of Scouting that we can be confident that today's young boy will be tomorrow's leader: On his honor…doing his best; Doing his duty to God and country; Living the Scout Law; Helping others…at all times; Keeping himself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.