Why you don’t say someone was an Eagle Scout

Once-an-EagleYou earn the BSA’s Eagle Scout award as a youth (unless you earned it before 1965), but the title stays with you throughout your life.

That’s why you never say “I was an Eagle Scout.” You always say “I am an Eagle Scout.”

The tense makes sense. Earning the BSA’s top honor makes you a marked man for the rest of your life. The title doesn’t go away when you turn 18. If anything, its significance strengthens.

Those two words about your past define your character for the present and future.

Consider this: For most Eagle Scouts, the award is the lone item from their high school years that survives on a professional résumé. Most 30-somethings looking for a job won’t put “high school debate team runner-up” or “third place, county track meet” on there. But you can bet they’ll include “Eagle Scout.”

Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle

In 2012, I asked readers to tell me how they’d define the phrase “Eagle Scout.”

Good old Merriam-Webster offered two definitions:

  1. a Boy Scout who has reached the highest level of achievement in Scouting
  2. a straight-arrow and self-reliant man

The first is accurate; the second is phenomenal. But Scouters who commented on that post did even better than Webster.

There’s this, from Mitchell Losey:

An Eagle Scout has shown his community that he is a reliable man. If he sets his mind to something it gets done. He shows and leads by example. He isn’t all about himself; he is about others.

Or this, from commenter Mike Walton:

People see Eagle Scouts in action every day, although they frequently gloss over it in the daily run of being human.

Eagle Scouts are those in business who pass on a “can’t-miss deal” because the way the “deal” was crafted was illegal or in their minds or hearts, immoral.

Eagle Scouts are those who stand up and take the hits — figuratively and literally — from those who want to take advantage of someone’s frailty, or lack of defense, or their failure to observe their surroundings.

Eagle Scouts open doors for others and wait until older, slower people get onto planes, trains and buses before they do.

An Eagle Scout knows so many things because he reads, listens and observes. He is willing to share those things but knows his own limits and the patience of others.

And finally, this from Howard Hill:

In other words – someone you would want your daughter to date, and then marry.

Eagle Scouts gone home

I’ve been asked about referring to Eagle Scouts who have died — or “gone home.”

In that case, it’s appropriate to refer to the individual’s Eagle Scout status in the past tense: “Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was an Eagle Scout.”