There were thoughtful decorations, inspiring speeches and proud parents. The room was adorned with photos of the newly minted Eagle Scout’s journey from Cub Scouts to Scouting’s highest rank. And relatives and friends from near (New York) and far (Nevada) were in attendance.
The only difference between Jacob Finch’s Eagle Scout court of honor and a “typical” one was the venue. His court of honor was held via Zoom.
“It was very successful and well attended by our family and friends from Houston to Boston to Las Vegas,” says Tracey Donner Finch, Jacob’s proud mom. “It was nice because friends and relatives like Jacob’s grandparents could attend and not feel left out of our celebration.”
The pandemic has made all of us more comfortable using Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms. But knowing how to log in to a Zoom meeting and properly mute yourself isn’t the same as knowing how to conduct an entire Eagle Scout court of honor over Zoom.
That’s an important distinction, because this isn’t a morning huddle with your team. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that celebrates a Scout’s multiyear journey.
Some 50 people RSVP’d for Jacob’s big virtual event, promising to tune in from couches and kitchen tables in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, D.C.
They expected a show, and Scoutmaster Rick Roby, Barbara Roby and Jacob’s parents wanted to deliver.
What went right? Did anything go wrong? We chatted with Jacob and his mom to learn more.
Jacob’s big day
You’ll find a wealth of Eagle court of honor ceremony ideas online. But the best advice is this: Make it special and unique to the Scout being recognized.
For Jacob, an Eagle Scout from Troop 1 of Ballston Spa, N.Y. (Twin Rivers Council), that meant asking adults and Scouts to give brief remarks about the young man’s Scouting journey.
Jacob’s family moved from Connecticut to New York during Jacob’s time as a Scout, so Jacob had two different Scoutmasters give remarks. Scoutmaster Randy O’Rourke (Troop 11, Kent, Conn.) and Scoutmaster Rick Roby (Troop 1, Ballston Spa, N.Y.) spoke about Jacob’s successes in Scouting.
They mentioned Jacob’s selfless Scouting spirit. For an example, they shared how Jacob had the idea that Scouting neckerchiefs from past events (with out-of-date branding) could be repurposed as makeshift face coverings.
During the earliest days of the pandemic, Jacob lobbied BSA leadership to send these items to those who needed them. The BSA responded, shipping 35,000 neckerchiefs across New York and New Jersey in a story that made headlines.
10 lessons learned from a Zoom court of honor
1. Consider the background
By now, most of us have curated our Zoom background — or chosen a virtual background that puts us permanently on a Caribbean beach. But an Eagle court of honor deserves something special.
For Jacob’s big day, Tracey created a background that included a large U.S. flag, a banner that showed photos of Jacob from Cub Scouts to Scouts BSA and a plant with Jacob’s Eagle Scout neckerchief around it.
2. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Hold a rehearsal with anyone who has a speaking part during the event.
“We did one and got issues ironed out,” Tracey says.
Make sure you can hear and see everyone and that connections are stable.
3. Think about the placement of everyone on camera
If a party will have multiple people on camera at the same time — such as an Eagle Scout and their parent(s) or guardian — think about whether everyone will be in the frame.
This means considering the height of the chairs and the people sitting in them. Should someone sit on a cushion so that all heads are relatively the same height on screen?
“I suggest rehearsals and pre-planning the stage or set so you know where to sit and how to sit,” Tracey says. “I marked the floor with tape so we knew where to put the chairs when we sat down for the actual event.”
4. Write a script
Jacob and the adults who helped plan the court of honor wrote a detailed script for the event.
“Everyone had their script before the Zoom so they knew exactly what to say,” Tracey says. “Jacob ran through the entire script to check for edits beforehand.”
5. Recruit a photographer
Per BSA Youth Protection rules, adult leaders should not video record a Zoom meeting if Scouts are present. Because you’ll want to capture the Eagle Scout’s special day, consider asking someone to serve as a still photographer instead.
This could be a great job for a sibling in the Eagle Scout’s house. Or this could be someone simply taking photos of their laptop screen to capture not just the Eagle Scout but their guests, too.
6. Consider springing for the paid Zoom
The free version of Zoom allows meetings of up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes. If you’re concerned that your Eagle Scout court of honor — and the virtual reception after (see No. 7) — might last longer, consider paying for the pro version of Zoom.
For $15 a month, you’ll be able to host 100 participants for up to 30 hours. That should be long enough for even the most loquacious court of honor speaker. And you could cancel your subscription after the ceremony, meaning you’d have paid for just the one month.
Of course, Zoom isn’t your only videoconferencing option. Similar features (and limitations) exist in Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and other platforms.
7. Think beyond the ceremony
Jacob’s court of honor ceremony lasted just 30 minutes. But the Zoom itself kept going for two hours. Why? The after party, of course!
“Afterwards, we had a social hour where the guests asked me questions and congratulated me,” Jacob says. “It also gave my mother and father an opportunity to discuss Scouting and talk about my community service successes.”
8. Create a video or slideshow
Many in-person Eagle Scout courts of honor include a table filled with mementos from the young person’s time in Scouting. It’s quite moving to see all those Pinewood Derby cars, patches and uniform parts the Scout has collected along the way.
Since that can’t be easily replicated online, create a video or slideshow to give guests a peek back in time.
Jacob’s parents made a short video in iMovie with still images, music and video.
9. Don’t forget the mentor gifts
Many Scouts present Eagle mentor pins to adults who were especially helpful in their journey to Eagle.
But in a virtual ceremony, these should be delivered to the recipients beforehand. If you want to maintain the surprise, the pin could be sent in a box with instructions not to open until the Eagle Scout court of honor.
“I gave them to Scoutmaster Rick Roby and also one to his wife, Barbara Roby, in recognition of all they do for our troop and also for helping me finish my Eagle project,” Jacob says.
10. Encourage the Scout to speak
Most who have attended Eagle Scout courts of honor will tell you a highlight is hearing from the Eagle Scouts themselves.
It’s a chance for the Eagle Scout to reflect on the impactful moments and individuals who were a part of their Scouting story.
They might also talk of future plans. Jacob, a senior in high school, wants to become an architect and join a community service fraternity in college.
He knows he can do that because of the strong foundation he gained in Scouting.
“I am grateful to my parents, especially my mother, for helping me get to Eagle Scout. Everyone I tell is very impressed, and I know that it will help me tremendously in life,” Jacob says. “And thank you to the Boy Scouts of America. I think it’s the best organization for personal growth and learning skills you would never learn without the guidance of caring parents and leaders.”