For any child involved in scouting, one of the great pleasures is the satisfaction of rising through the ranks and earning badges and medals along the way. If you are dedicated enough, you will reach the ultimate level and attain a rank that few scouts can say they have earned. For The Girl Scouts of America, it’s the Gold Award, For Boys Scouts, it’s becoming an Eagle Scout.
I’m proud to say that my nephew Ryan is among the two percent of Boy Scouts to ever become an Eagle Scout. Just two percent, out of millions. That’s amazing! He was honored with a ceremony in September of 2012. As part of Ryan’s celebration and ceremony, a book was presented to him with well wishes and congratulations from many notable people. This too has become a tradition in scouting.
Most scouts get commendations from local politicians, the governor of their state and homegrown celebrities. In Ryan’s case, we helped him shoot higher. Using many of the templates and ideas contained in this book, letters were sent out to over 1,000 famous people across the world, many of whom had connections to scouting or were Eagle Scouts themselves. In just under three months, Ryan received 150 personal letters back. By far the biggest one was from the Holy Father (at that time) Pope Benedict XVI. It was Ryan’s project that got the Pontiff’s attention (and that of many of the Church’s Cardinals, who also wrote to Ryan.)
Each Scout, as part of their journey towards becoming an Eagle, must embark on a community service project. Ryan’s project was to raise money to build a contemplative walkway outside of his local church, Our Lady of the Valley in Wayne, NJ. He sold bricks with names of loved ones that had passed away, which would be placed on the path so that people could remember them as they made their way past a statue of the Jesus’ Mother Mary on their way to services. Ryan actually raised more than was needed for the project completion, and he gave the rest of the money to charity. Every letter that was sent described this wonderful altruism and community service on his part. You can see why the Pope took an interest.
Many of the people that wrote back to Ryan offered personal reminiscences of their time as scouts. Most gave him solid advice on building a career and a successful life. All of them took the time out to make sure they replied by the date of his ceremony. It was touching to watch the guests as they eagerly read the notes sent by some of the most powerful people on the planet (Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama also offered stories of how scouting moved them to greater heights.)
The moral of this particular story? Don’t be afraid to write to anyone just because you think they won’t respond. You don’t have to be an Eagle Scout, just share your own personal story and what moved you to write to that particular person.
If the Pope and the President answer their mail, then nobody is really off limits