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May 10, 2016

Distinguished Eagle Scout Acceptance Speech
2016 Lawyers’ Luncheon
Ricky Mason

Thank you, Tom Kavaler, for your remarks. I also want to thank our co-chairs, Rich Hans and Jim Haynes. And I want to thank my wife Beth, who is up at the head table with me, and without whom very little of what I have done in my life, would be possible.

It is an honor to be named a Distinguished Eagle Scout, and to join Kevin McCarthy from Bank of New York Mellon and Keith Morgan from TIAA – two great institutions — in being honored here today.

Let me spend a few minutes explaining my road to Eagle, and how I was shaped by the journey. It will help tell you why I volunteer for the Greater New York Councils today.
I joined Troop 417, in Richmond Virginia, in 1971, at the age of eleven. This was a long time ago. I was a shy, bookish kid with few friends. I could never have even dreamed of being in front of an audience like this. (Actually I could have dreamed it; it would have been a nightmare.)

My mother — a bit of a taskmaster, an iron fist in a steel glove, as my sister and I liked to say — had great plans for me. My older brother Bobby had become an Eagle at the age of 16, and she wanted me to become an Eagle too, but younger. Everything he did, I had to do sooner.

For awhile, it was not clear that I would survive beyond the Tenderfoot ranks. I had never been to overnight camp, had never started a fire, had never hiked through a mountain range, had never canoed on a river. I knew nothing about the outdoors and little about the indoors. And it certainly showed.

But slowly, I began to progress through the ranks, and as I did, I became more confident in myself.

The skinny kid who always got picked on, became a patrol leader, and eventually a senior patrol leader — a leader of other kids, some even skinner than me. I swam a mile at summer camp. I canoed over Class 3 Rapids on the Shenandoah River. It wasn't quite "Deliverance", but close enough.

I learned leadership skills at Troop Leader Development Camp. And at the age of 14, I went to Philmont, the wilderness area in the New Mexico Rockies, where I hiked nearly 120 miles through the mountains in ten days.

I also achieved my mother's dream. I climbed to the rank of Eagle by the age of 14, younger than my brother. My mother died of cancer three years later; I had done what she asked, and I had a great time doing it.

So what difference did becoming an Eagle make in my life? Why does it matter now?
I'm fond of telling people that I don't remember how to tie a square knot, and you wouldn't have me lead an overnight adventure in the Adirondacks (if you wanted to come back alive).

But the road to Eagle taught me life skills that are far more enduring:

— how to set a goal and work hard to achieve it

— how to lead others, by asking them only to do things that I would do myself

— how to respect my fellow citizens and the environment

— how to deal with adversity and keep going, whether it's losing a bag of food to a Grizzly in the Rockies, or losing your mother to cancer at the age of 17

Becoming an Eagle Scout helped me to become who I am today. It gave me the opportunity to find and develop who I am.

So when the Scouts came calling a few years ago and asked me to give back, I was only too happy to do so.

And now I am honored to be the President of the Greater New York Councils. We serve over 45,000 kids here in New York City, the most diverse metropolis in the country if not the world. Our Scouts and Explorers come from all income levels, backgrounds, religions and ethnic communities.

A few of them are on the road to Eagle, like I was, and maybe 40 years from now, one of them will stand in front of a lawyers event like this one and tell the audience how becoming an Eagle changed his life. I can only hope.

Thank you all again.

Ricky Mason