Updated, Aug. 6: Scroll down to watch the video of Dr. Gates’ speech.
Deftly playing to a 15,000-person crowd, mostly young men, former Defense Secretary Dr. Robert M. Gates opened his Tuesday night remarks at the 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference with a few jokes.
Dr. Gates was preceded by America’s Got Talent alumni and juggler Charles Peachock, who amazed the crowd by juggling bowling balls, knives, a chainsaw and more.
After taking the stage, Dr. Gates said a “juggler’s a hard act to follow — and I juggled the congress of the United States for a few years.” Then a beat. “And I only dropped a few.”
Next Dr. Gates recounted a speech he had given at the 1996 National Order of the Arrow Conference at Indiana University. During that speech 19 years ago, a “wise guy in the cheap seats” yelled out, “Who killed President Kennedy?”
Dr. Gates, a former CIA director, said he “slowly pointed up toward the sound of his voice, and I said, ‘I know who you are, and I know where you live.’”
The crowd roared with laughter and cheered. But Dr. Gates wasn’t done.
“Now of course I could’ve answered his question,” he said to more laughs. “But then I would’ve had to, you know…” his voice trailed off.
It was at this point the remarks turned from witty to inspirational.
“I’m not here tonight to entertain you,” Dr. Gates said. “I want to speak to you in all seriousness about the future and the role you must play in it.”
Dr. Gates spoke as “a leader from one generation to the leaders of the next,” he said. “Young leaders on whom much will depend.”
He said America faces many threats in our “world of oppressive change.” North Korea, China, Russia, as well as conflicts at home, threaten our nation. The time to act is now, he said.
“The future of the world itself will depend on the kind of people we 21st century Americans prove to be,” he said. “And that depends on the kind of leaders you Arrowmen become. Because it starts with you.”
After all, who else but Arrowmen and the other members of the Boy Scouts of America will step up to accept this responsibility? Celebrities certainly won’t do it.
“When was the last time you heard a celebrity you like … speak of responsibility or honor or duty?” Dr. Gates asked.
So it has to be Arrowmen and other Boy Scouts.
“In all our lives there are people who seek after wealth and the many kinds of power without regard to what is right or true or decent,” Dr. Gates said. “And yet you here tonight and countless others in Scouting and in the Order of the Arrow demonstrate daily that Scouting offers an alternative. That a life based on … Scouting values can be adventurous, fulfilling and uplifting to an entire community and to a nation. And it starts with you.”
Dr. Gates, a Distinguished Eagle Scout and our current Boy Scouts of America president, has worked with countless world leaders in his day. He has worked alongside eight U.S. presidents, 14 secretaries of State, 13 secretaries of Defense, nine chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and “more general and admirals than I can count.”
Yet in all that experience, Dr. Gates says, “I never found better insight into what truly makes a leader than in the Ordeal ceremony of the Order of the Arrow.”
The OA, Dr. Gates said, offers unparalleled lessons in self-confidence, self-awareness, a spirit of cheerful service, and the importance of values and virtue.
“There is no finer program for preparing young Americans for leadership at home and abroad than the Boy Scouts of America and the Order of the Arrow,” he said.
Watch Dr. Gates’ speech
Thanks to Joe Donahue for sending me the link.
More photos from the Tuesday night show
From photographer Robbie Rogers:
Full NOAC coverage
See my other NOAC posts here.
Photos by Robbie Rogers