Noah Harris, Harvard’s student body president, is an Eagle Scout

A leader then and now: Noah Harris as an Eagle Scout and at Harvard. (Courtesy of Noah Harris)

With a budget of half a million dollars and responsibility for nearly 7,000 undergraduates, Noah Harris has come a long way since he was elected patrol leader in Troop 90 of Hattiesburg, Miss.

But Harris says he never would’ve become president of Harvard’s Undergraduate Council without his experience in Scouting.

Late last year, Harris made national headlines as the first Black man elected student body president of Harvard.

He says he felt comfortable taking the post thanks in part to Scouting, where young people practice leadership skills in a safe but challenging environment.

“Being a patrol leader requires you to check in on people and have a certain level of flexibility to adhere to the needs of others,” Harris says. “That is a skill that I carry with me in this moment as well.”

Harris spoke with Bryan on Scouting about his Eagle project, the best piece of advice a Scout leader ever gave him and whether he feels Scouting helped him gain admission to one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges.

Courtesy of Noah Harris

An Eagle project with lifesaving potential

In 2012, an older woman who lived near Harris had a heart attack. Her family called 911, and the ambulance arrived on the street in minutes.

But the first responders couldn’t find the correct house, wasting precious minutes driving up and down the street searching for the correct house. None of the houses had address numbers visible from the street.

Sadly, the woman died.

“No one knows if those minutes would have saved her life, but her chance of living would have increased substantially,” Harris says.

Vowing to make sure that never happened again in his community, Harris got to work. For his Eagle Scout service project, Harris created the 911 Project, which supplied address numbers to residents in need.

This wasn’t as simple as heading to the hardware store to buy numbers and nailing them to a few houses. Harris had to meet with the mayor and fire chief to get permission to complete the project. When the project was over, Harris and his team of volunteers added address numbers to more than 500 homes.

“Seemingly insignificant details such as address numbers can and do make the difference between life and death,” he says.

‘Learning how to lead others’

Any Scout volunteer willing to give up their evenings and weekends to help lead Scouts is worth celebrating.

As Harris will tell you, some are worth quoting, too.

Harris still remembers a quote that one of his assistant Scoutmasters told the troop: “The first three ranks — Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class — are about learning how to lead yourself. The final three ranks — Star, Life and Eagle — are about learning how to lead others. Before you can lead others, you have to learn how to lead yourself.”

“That is a saying that has always lasted with me at Harvard and other places,” Harris says. “It requires a higher degree of foresight to be able to guide others, and to be able to do it well requires you to first be ready to lead yourself.”

Courtesy of Noah Harris

‘Scouting helped me get into Harvard’

As a student at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Harris got excellent grades in addition to serving as student body president. He was a member of the National Honor Society, president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, secretary of the Beta Club and captain of the basketball team.

That’s a résumé that would make any admissions reader take notice. But Harris is confident that two words on his application really stood out: Eagle Scout.

“I believe Scouting helped me get into Harvard,” he says. “Apart from how universally understood the rank of Eagle Scout is, admissions officers understand the Boy Scouts of America to be an organization that instills great values into young people across the country. Being associated with the organization is always a positive.”

‘You might as well do what you love’

There’s no Harvard checklist — no set of things a young person can do to ensure admission.

With that in mind, Harris has some sound advice for fellow Eagle Scouts dreaming of attending Harvard.

“First, I would tell them the same thing I would tell any other high-achieving person: There is no one thing that gets you in, so you might as well do what you love,” he says. “Then, find a way to do what you love at a high level that helps you stand out.”

Don’t limit your Scouting experience to a single line on your application, Harris says. Instead, use it to your advantage throughout the process of preparing your application.

“You are an Eagle Scout, so use the qualities that got you to that rank to be successful,” he says. “Prepare judiciously, and execute to the best of your ability.”

‘Building Tomorrow’s Harvard’

Being student body president during a pandemic has not been easy. But if there’s anyone up to the task, it’s an Eagle Scout.

Harris and his vice president, Jenny Gan, ran on the platform of “Building Tomorrow’s Harvard.”

“For us, that means creating a campus everyone can be proud of and want to call home,” he says. “Our main focuses were diversity and inclusion, social life, and health and wellness. We hope to do everything we can to help students get through a very difficult semester during this pandemic.”

If the past is any indication, Harris will have success. In fact, he wrote the book on that very topic.

Harris wrote the children’s book Successville to show kids that they can do anything if they focus on their education and treat it as the first step they want to achieve.

In the book, the students are not paying attention in class, and their teacher is worried they won’t reach their full potential. The teacher tells them about Successville to get them excited about working hard, setting goals and developing talents on the path to everything they want to achieve.

“The kids change their ways and make it to their Successville,” Harris says. “The book is meant to motivate kids and show them the purpose of why they go to school. It teaches them how to succeed and helps to prepare them for their future job.”

For Harris, success started in Scouting and has taken him to Harvard. Where he goes next will be up to him.

About Bryan Wendell 3158 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.