Jimmy Stewart had given acceptance speeches before — after winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, for example.
But this one was different. This one was all about Scouting.
In May 1980, inside a crowded ballroom in one of Los Angeles’ fanciest hotels, Stewart received the Los Angeles Area Council’s Distinguished Scouter Award.
As a youngster, Stewart was a Boy Scout in Troop 3 in Indiana, Pa. As an adult, he was a dedicated friend of Scouting.
The night’s highlight was Stewart’s stirring speech about the Scout Oath, which he called “40 words … that can make an awfully big difference.”
Find the speech in its entirety below, as printed in the October 1980 issue of Scouting magazine.
Jimmy Stewart on the Scout Oath
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
I learned those words as a very young man. Most of you men in this room learned them when you were very young.
They have stayed with me through a lifetime, as I know they have with you. For many of us, those words have changed the world, and yet, the Scout Oath has only 40 words in it.
Forty words that can make an awfully big difference in the way the boy who becomes a man lives out his life. Let’s take just a minute to talk about these 40 words and what they mean to all of us. Scouts and non-Scouts alike.
“On my honor.” Honor — There’s a good word to start out with. It comes from the French, and its origins indicate dignity, without which none of us is a whole or complete person. Honor means worth, and has been known to escalate to reverence and higher to veneration. We honor the Lord. By living well, we honor each other. A man honors his flag, his family, his wife and children. Honor. As fine and decent a word as could be found to begin an oath.
“I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” Now there’s a mouthful you could talk for years about. Just listen to some of the words contained in that simple phrase: best, duty, God, country. Every Scout should always try to do his best, long after he hangs up the uniform and goes out to shake hands with the adult world.
“Best” is what Scouts are trained to be. It’s as simple as that.
“To do my duty.” Duty — that implies a moral or legal obligation to follow a certain code of conduct. Duty means playing by the rules, reaching deep into your own conscience for the meaning of these rules and giving just a little beyond and doing just a little bit more than is expected.
“To God and my country.” Duty to God — means a lot more than saying a prayer every time you need a favor. A lot more. Duty to God is simply that voluntary gesture you must make and remake a million times in your lifetime as a statement of your recognition that there is someone above this universe who watches over this universe and to whom each of us is a favorite son. Duty to God is a lifetime thank-you note our hearts send out in appreciation for the life that has been loaned to us here on earth.
“And to obey the Scout Law.” Obey Scout Law — That’s a pretty good combination of words. For any boy who promises on his honor to obey the Scout Law will do so as a Scout, as a grown-up, as a husband, father, worker, no matter how far he ever gets from his neckerchief. Obeying the Scout Law isn’t something we hang up when we graduate.
“To help other people at all times.” That’s sort of a combination of unselfishness and love thy neighbor.
“To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Those words are pretty self-explanatory. To keep yourself physically strong goes without saying. It’s something natural to do for your own good, for your family, for your country.
“Mentally awake.” That’s another thing. That means you’ll stay on the ball and carry some of the dreams of your teens into the later years — the arthritis years, I call them. To remain receptive to ideas, aware of life around you, cognizant of the blessings showered upon you. Appreciative of the love of God and family who surround you.
“Morally straight.” Without these two words, none of the other 38 mean much. All the good talk in the world won’t help if you don’t keep yourself morally straight. You can make your whole life worthless unless you grab on to these two words and live by them. Live by them every hour of every day of your lifetime. I hope that’s what the Scout Oath means to every boy who’s ever worn the uniform, or wanted to wear the uniform, or who will wear the uniform.
I happen to believe that the man who was a Scout is a better man for it. And the world is a better world because of this organization called the Boy Scouts. Thank you and God bless you all.
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