My Two Cents: Why it’s OK to wait until age 17 to earn Eagle

So you earned Eagle at age 17. (Or was it 17.5? Or 17.9?)

The point is you made it. You’re an Eagle Scout for life.

I know your parents, leaders and fellow Eagle Scouts are extremely proud of you.

I also know that as a 17-year-old Eagle, you might have heard from an adult or two along the way who asked what was taking so long. You realize this window closes at 18, they reminded you.

I recently heard from a young man whose board of review began with this misguided question: “Why did you wait to age 17 to finish all your requirements?”

Timeout. While I commend your fellow Eagle Scouts who earned their badge at 13, 14 or 15, those 16- and 17-year-old Eagle Scouts impress me just as much.

Especially because, as I’m told again and again from Eagle Scouts I respect, earning Scouting’s highest honor has never been harder.

You saw Scouting as a journey, not a race.

There are some young men who become Eagle Scouts at 14 or 15 and stay active in the troop until they age out at 18. (Or, cooler still, move to Venturing until they’re 21.) These guys are awesome — and often have the Eagle Scout palms to prove it.

But then there are young men who earn Eagle in their early teens and disappear. We call this going “Eagle and out,” and while these guys still earned an incredibly difficult award, they left before some of their prime Scouting years.

I’m saying that the journey to getting Eagle is just as cool as the destination.

And if you took the scenic route? Good for you. In Scouting, there’s a lot of great scenery out there.

You’re in the majority.

Earlier this year I shared the average age of 2015 Eagle Scouts: 17.34.

The majority, like you, held on until that 18th birthday loomed. My limited math skills tell me you don’t get to an average of 17.34 without a few 17.9s in the mix.

And while you members of the 17.9 Club are responsible for a few of your parents’ gray hairs, you should be commended for squeezing every drop out of the Scouting program.

You lived Scouting to the fullest.

As a 17-year-old Eagle Scout, your priorities probably went like this:

  1. Adventure
  2. Advancement

Good for you!

If I could offer advice to a new Boy Scout, it’d be this: Go camping. Make friends. Check out a high-adventure base. Try your hand at a leadership role. Attend the jamboree. Earn some merit badges.

Advancement is important, but I see it as a byproduct of Scouting adventure. In doing those things above, you’ll naturally progress through the ranks toward Eagle.

And as you enjoy those Scouting experiences, you’ll see they get better with age. Trust me.

I went on two Philmont treks as a Scout. On the first, I was 14; on the second, I was 17. My mental and physical abilities grew in those three intervening years, and the second trek was even more rewarding than the first.

Same goes for leadership positions. Can you imagine serving as senior patrol leader at 13 or 14? Sure, some have met that challenge, but the majority find leadership roles more meaningful in their later Scouting years.

You’re more well-rounded than ever.

Scouting, school, sports, church, friends, homework — and that’s just Monday night. Sound familiar?

Scouts like you are pulled in a million directions these days. But still, with a calendar crammed with commitments, you managed to stick with it.

And how impressive will that look to a college admissions counselor or hiring manager?

They’ll look at a long list of extracurriculars — with Eagle Scout at the top — and know you’re ready for the challenges of college or the workplace.

One thing they won’t see: how old you were when you earned Eagle.

You earned an award that’s getting harder to earn.

I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to some accomplished Eagle Scouts, and I like to ask them this: How does earning Eagle today compare with earning Eagle when you were a Scout?

So far, they all think it’s harder. Check out two quotes from interviews in upcoming issues of Eagles’ Call magazine:

Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines: “There’s just a lot more competition for their time. Kids have to grow up a lot quicker than they did I think when I was young.”

Robert Gates, 2014-2016 BSA president and former defense secretary: “First of all, they’re not getting the same Eagle Scout award that I got. In contrast to so many things in life today, getting your Eagle today is a lot harder than it was when I became an Eagle.”

You’re an Eagle Scout.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough. I’ll leave you with this:

Thirteen? Seventeen? Doesn’t matter. You lived the Scout Oath and Scout Law. You earned 21 merit badges. You helped lead your fellow Scouts. You gave back to the community with a giant service project.

You did it. And you’re a better-prepared man because of it.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.