The court of honor is a ceremony for recognizing achievements. Don’t underestimate their importance – a formal public presentation and recognition of a Scout’s achievement demonstrates Scouting’s aim, don’t make them slapdash or off the cuff or too constrained.
Courts of honor must speak to Scouts, not just their leaders or parents. The tone is formal without florid, overblown theatrics . The court of honor is not just a slog through calling names and handing out badges.
As in most things the answer lies in the Scouts themselves. Given some limits and presented with the task of writing a court of honor what will they come up with?
Scout-aged boys appreciate tradition, brevity and meaning. Ceremonies outside of Scouting whether religious or secular usually follow an established ritual framework. When we go to commencement exercises or weddings we expect some common elements as part of the proceedings that show a shared concept of what the ceremony celebrates.
My guidelines for an effective presentation at a Scout court of honor are:
- Brevity – 30-45 minutes is about the right length. Theatrics are punctuation, not sentences and are most appropriate in opening and closing the ceremony. Get to the point quickly. Present awards in groups – it cements the concept of uniformity and shared achievement and eliminates tedium.
- Simplicity – Simplicity is memorable, complexity is aggravating to the participants and the audience.
- Uniformity – Individual honors are presented in the same way, at the same time. For example all the tenderfoot rank presentations are presented together and receive equal weight. No favorites, no special treatment for individuals. If there is an extraordinary individual achievement associated with the award make it a separate part of the ceremony.
- Clarity – What is the award and what did it require to earn it, temper this aspect with brevity.
- Predictability – We have used the same basic script for many years. The scouts appreciate the ceremony by being familiar with it. Change for sake of novelty is, in itself, as predictable as an established program. Changing the ceremony too often undermines the purpose of uniformly recognizing achievements.
- Solemnity – Honor is the theme, not humor. These are not mutually exclusive; humor is good so long as it supports and does not detract from honor.
- High Standard of Presentation – Ceremonies are theatrical, presenters play a role. Don’t expect an effective ceremony without rehearsal. The inevitable mistakes and omissions are handled in an unruffled, professional way and never at the cost of the attitude of solemnity.
- Scout Presented – These are the Scout’s achievements. The Scoutmaster may present some of the higher ranks but their role should not overshadow the Scouts role in a court of honor.
A brief, uncluttered, professional, predictable and meaningful presentation is appreciated by the honoree and the audience.
Note that adding new unit-based awards, traditions and other procedural elements to a court of honor creates an expectation that they will be there forever. Be cautious of creating something that will ultimately demand so much time and effort that it becomes unsupportable in the future.
Here’s the Court of Honor Script we have used for many years.