Moments before Spencer James Elmslie stepped onto the stage of Kendall United Methodist Church, he said that becoming an Eagle Scout is a lot more than merit badge requirements, weekend trips and community service.
“It takes years and years of commitment. Only 4 percent of people who join scouts make it and become Eagle Scouts,” said Spencer, 17, citing the statistic from Michael S. Malone’s book, Four Percent. “[Becoming an Eagle Scout] is not just checking off a box.”
On April 25, three generations of scouts celebrated the accomplishments of eight youths who became Eagles of Troop 457.
Even into adulthood, most former scouts say the lessons they learned as boys through the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) program stayed with them their whole lives. Throughout the Court of Honor ceremony, family, friends and community leaders each emphasized that scouting was not a childish accolade.
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“Of course, the Eagle Scouts is an emphasis on past achievements, but my experience was that it’s more significant to what a young man can do in the future,” Dexter Lehtinen said during Saturday’s ceremony.
For Lehtinen, life after scouting included stints in the Florida Senate and House and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Throughout his time in office, his inner-scout kept him composed, he said.
“[Eagle Scouts] was a confidence builder that meant that I could do things in the future that didn’t, objectively speaking, seem possible,” said Lehtinen, husband of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.
From start to finish, the scouting process can take more than 10 years. Usually, children start as Cub Scouts, progress through the ranks of Boy Scouts, and finish by earning their Eagle Scout badges. Throughout the years, scout masters teach the young men everything from a code of respect to outdoor sustenance.
“I get to do things most kids my age don’t get to do,” Spencer said, recounting a 12-day, 83-mile backpack trip through New Mexico. The boys each were equipped with a 60-pound pack. Teamwork was a must, Spencer said.
Edward De Aguiar, Troop 457’s assistant scoutmaster, says the Boy Scout law — that calls a scout to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent — may seem archaic, but has given young men a moral sense of obligation for more than 100 years.
“You’re always an Eagle,” De Aguiar said. “It’s not something you did, it’s something you are. Just like any other thing you do that’s important, it transforms and defines you.”
When looking at the success of Troop 457, De Aguiar gave most credit to Dave Ziska, the troop’s committee chairman who died March 8 at age 83. Under Ziska and his wife, Julie, the troop produced 289 Eagle Scouts since 1985.
According to De Aguiar, Ziska was a patient and humble man who inspired the troop and the young men who passed through the program.
“None of us would be here today if it wasn’t for his oversight, leadership and guidance,” Nicolas Alayo, 17, said to the crowd.
Alayo, Elmslie, Jake Michael Armstrong, Derek George Curth, Wesley Alexander Franz, John Denali Grant, Joshua Soren Grant, and Austin Jordan Regalado were the first group of Eagles to graduate since the passing of the Ziska, who started leading Troop 457 in 1985.