Planning and Running a Traditional Award Ceremony / Court of Honor
[Note: The term “Court of Honor” generally refers to an advancement awards ceremony today. That is the way I will be using the term in this post. If you want to know about what the term “Court of Honor” used to mean, check out this post.]
The Unique Ceremony
Scout Ceremonies have a long and rich history throughout Scouting. There has never really been a standard that all Scout Troops follow for their ceremonies, so the way ceremonies have been viewed has varied much throughout Scouting's history. Even today, each Troop has its own traditions, scripts, and standards.
Over all, this is a very good thing. This adds a richness and depth to the Court of Honor. It can change, it can grow, and it can be a special signature of your Troop. Because of the many possibilities there are with the Court of Honor, make sure your Troop does not waste this moment. Don't just follow a script that was printed off the Internet or shared at a round-table meeting. Make the ceremony fully your Troop's.
This is a great opportunity for the older Scouts to be active in shaping the culture of their Troop. Like all things in Scouting, don't do the actual work yourself. Though I'm sure you can write an impressive script, it will just be your script and not really the Troop's. Get with the older Scouts and help them as they plan and prepare a special ceremony. I know they will have some great ideas! Melville Balsillie wrote in 1964:
“All the boys like to participate in ceremonies performed with dignity and sincerity, and, while the 15 year olds are commendably shy in taking part themselves, the older boys are usually very ready to learn how to conduct themselves on such formal occasions. They do, however, need to be taught how these things are done and the painstaking Scout Leader will have to instruct them.”
Ceremonies are very important in Scouting. It is one of the easiest ways to see the culture of a Troop. If the ceremony is ill-prepared and lifeless, then most likely the whole Scouting program is as well. But the ceremony doesn't just indicate the culture of a Troop; it establishes it as well. As new Scouts join the Troop, these formal ceremonies set the kind of attitude they will have towards Scouting. If the ceremony is animated and taken very seriously, then the new Scouts will take Scouting as a whole that way.
Though applied differently, there are several principles behind running a great Court of Honor that our Scouting predecessors have laid down for us. Those are what I'd like to share with you in this post.
Scouts are naturally very energetic and easily become restless. The best ceremonies are relatively short and simple. It isn't long speeches or complicated procedures that make a great Court of Honor. It is the way in which the ceremony is run. It must be well prepared. If the ceremony is thoroughly rehearsed and conducted with due respect and discipline, then it will be effective. The longer and more complicated the ceremony is, the harder it will be to prepare it and maintain discipline throughout it. (Besides, large volumes of time spent rehearsing a ceremony could be much better spent on Scouting activities!)
But having a short ceremony doesn't mean it should be conducted with a rushed “Let's-get-it-over-with” attitude. It should be the exact opposite! Having a short ceremony means great meaning and thought can be poured into each word. After all, a real award ceremony is a representation of many hours of hard work by the recipients. It should mean a lot! Each movement should be significant and each word laden with meaning.
Finally, simplicity means the Scout ceremony should not be filled with useless fluff. For example, when I took piano lessons, my teacher got all of her students together every year for an award ceremony. Though there were a few special awards, every single student got a “participation award” and a plaque. While it was fun to get at the time, this award really didn't mean anything to me. In Scouting, honor should be reserved for those who really earn it. Otherwise, meaning, value, and incentive will be diluted for everyone.
Historically, it has been very important for Scout Courts of Honor to include flag ceremonies. Why is this? Well, the flag ceremony reminds us that we are a part of a whole. We are part of a large inter-dependent group that we have responsibilities towards. For Scouts in particular, we are reminded by the flag ceremonies of our duty to our nation. Scouts serve others, and we should never forget that. Daniel Carter Beard said this in his book: “Camp Lore and Woodcraft”:
“The center of the council fire may be occupied by a "Liberty Pole," which is the good old American name for the flag pole, from which Old Glory flies. Never forget to respect the colors and greet them with the greatest ceremonial deference, for those colors possess a magic quality; they represent to you everything that is grand, noble and inspiring, and if you have any other kind of thoughts, this country no place for you. Remember that the council fire is American, and we are proud to be called Americans.”
If you are a Scout in another Nation, this principle still applies to you. You should be patriotic and have pride in your country. As a Scout stands by his Patrol in good times and bad ones and seeks to continually make his Patrol better, so should each citizen view their nation. A great world is made up of hundreds of individually great nations.
All this is to say that we shouldn't exclude the flag ceremony from our Courts of Honor. It is one common ceremonial Scouting tradition that we should continue.
As Troops should be boy-led, so should Courts of Honor. As stated before, though adult help and guidance is certainly good (and sometimes needed!), the Scouts should be the ones that plan the ceremony and write the Script. In addition to planning, Scouts should also run the ceremonies, and a Scout should be the M.C..
This doesn't mean the Scoutmaster shouldn't be in the ceremony. Far from it! A Scoutmaster should also do more than just make announcements. The Scoutmaster is, in many ways, a father-figure of the Scouts in his Troop. His formal endorsement and honor of the Scouts in a Court of Honor is very important and adds much weight and value to the awards.
As for choosing the M.C., this is an important decision. When the Patrol Leader Council chooses the M.C., it should be urged that it is an older, more experienced Scout with good communication skills. Though younger Scouts should be encouraged to improve upon and practice their communication skills, the position of M.C. of the Court of Honor isn't a practice job. In oder to be run smoothly and be as powerful as it can be, the M.C. should be the Scout who is best able to handle it. Younger Scouts with ambitions in this direction should be encouraged to continue to improve their abilities, and through time and experience they can eventually earn this position.
After all that has been said, it is pretty obvious that ceremonies should be run with a great deal of order and discipline. In Scouting, there are plenty of appropriate times for goofing off and “skylarking”. But there are also times where only respect and discipline are appropriate. The Court of Honor is one of these times.
Now, I must say that many Troops use Courts of Honor as family nights. In this case, skits and other fun things can be included, but they should be kept separate from the formal ceremony. This is a side benefit of having the ceremony short and dense with meaning. It will provide more time for demonstrations or other fun things on a “family night”.
For the ceremony itself, appearances count. The Scouts should dress in complete dress uniform. Now is the time for sewing on missing buttons and patches. Now is the time for ironing shirts, pants, sashes, and neckerchiefs. Speaking of which, a complete Scout uniform traditionally included both the full neckerchief (square, not triangle / over the collar, not under) and the Scout Staff. These may not seem like much, but having all of the Scouts with these two small items makes a huge difference in appearance.
Rehearsal is very important. When the real deal comes, there should be no confusion or hesitation. There is nothing that takes away the formality and seriousness of the occasion more than a ludicrous fumbling and confusion during the ceremony. Mistakes, of course, will be made at times, but they can all but be completely eliminated through proper preparation.
Ceremonies in the early days
For historical note, I'd like to point out how Scout ceremonies have changed over the years. When Scouting first was started, public award ceremonies were much less common. The most important ceremony was the investment ceremony. This ceremony usually took place outdoors in a secluded spot with just the Troop present. The purpose of the ceremony was to formally recognize each time a new Scout joined the Troop or a Scout moved up in rank. Each ceremony recognized usually one Scout at a time (up to 4 at the most). The 1958 Canadian “Troop Scouters' Handbook” said this:
“The success you have in making the principles of Scouting an active and permanent factor in the life of each of your boys will be influenced to a very great degree by the impression made on him at his Investiture. The importance of a properly conducted Investiture Ceremony in helping to achieve the Aim of the Movement cannot be too strongly emphasized.”
Also, each time there was a new Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, or other leadership position, a short troop-only ceremony was held to formalize the position.
I've spent most of this post talking about how Ceremonies should be run, but I haven't gone into too many specifics. This is intentional. As I said, each Troop's way of running Courts of Honor should be unique and a reflection of the Troop's culture. Creativity should be exercised in the planning process. That said, it might be helpful to have a few ideas to get the ball rolling. Many others have worked to write down different ideas for Ceremonies, so instead of simply repeating their ideas, here are some links to helpful online resources:
http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/33588.pdf – This PDF is a publication of the B.S.A. and includes many different ceremony and Scoutmaster Minute ideas along with some other program resources.
http://www.meritbadge.org/wiki/index.php/Court_of_honor – This page on the Merit Badge Wiki website has a sample script and some useful links.
http://www.usscouts.org/ceremony.asp – This page from the US Scouting Service Project website has a variety of sample ceremonies for different occasions.
http://eaglebook.com/ – Here you can buy a book by Mark Ray specifically on planning and running an Eagle Scout Court of Honor. I used it to help plan my Eagle COH, and I recommend it.
http://www.boyscouttrail.com/boy-scouts/boy-scout-ceremonies.asp – This Page from the Boy Scout Trail Website has a number of sample Scouting ceremony scripts for difference occasions
“Ceremonies play an important part in the life of the Troop. They help a boy to identify himself with his Group and realize the serious aspects of Scouting, and inspire him with high purpose.
To be effective a ceremony should be: –
a) Short. If it is too long it becomes boring and the boy will seek something more interesting (like poking the next fellow in the ribs!). Thus the value of the ceremony is lost and so is discipline.
b) Simple. The boy must understand what is going on. The vital point of the ceremony must not be hidden by unnecessary detail.
c) Sincere. A ceremony must have real meaning to in spire a boy with a high sense of duty and his personal obligations.
No matter how small or routine a ceremony may be, careful preparation is necessary. Any hitch is likely to ruin the occasion for the boy involved.
While ceremonial occasions are serious affairs there is no reason why they should not be happy experiences for those taking part. A confident smile on your face will do a great deal to reassure any boy who may be finding the occasion a bit of a strain.”
What does your Troop do for Courts of Honor? Do you have any special traditions or unique segments? I'd love to hear about them! Please post a comment in the box below so that all others reading this post can benefit from the ideas.
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