By Cathleen Ann Steg
There's no diploma, no tassels, and no "Pomp and Circumstance." But after five years of hiking the Cub Scout trail, the Webelos Scouts consider their graduation to be every bit as significant as a college commencement. And, according to Cubmaster John McAdams of Pack 1533, Fairfax, Va., their final ceremony will leave a lasting impact in the minds and hearts of both the graduating Webelos Scouts and the younger Cub Scouts they leave behind.
For McAdams, setting the stage to keep interest levels high both for his 16 graduating Webelos Scouts and the more than 60 younger Cub Scouts was the focus of the planning for the pack ceremony last May at Mantua Elementary School.
"It's easy for the Webelos Scouts to stay focused," he pointed out. "But I wanted to make sure that everybody else stayed attentive to the ceremony, because it's just as important for the little guys."
Instead of meeting in the school cafeteria as usual, McAdams moved the event outside and set up a ceremonial campfire as the focal point for the pack meeting.
"There was the whole world outsideincluding a baseball game at a nearby fieldbut people were not distracted," he noted with pleasant surprise. "It seemed the pack was more interested in our meeting because of the new environment."
Equally important in creating the mood was the symbolic bridge, which all graduating Webelos Scouts had to cross. Pack 1533's bridge, a large, lashed-together collection of tubes and posts, clearly marked the moment when the boys move from Cub Scouting to Boy Scouting, reminding them of the growth that had occurred over the past five years.
Pack 1533's ceremony also showed special recognition of the younger Cub Scouts' efforts by posting their awards on a large bulletin board near the campfire. This demonstrated to them that their achievements were important even during the Webelos graduationand it also kept badges from blowing away in the lively spring breezes.
During the ceremony, younger Cub Scouts were able to hold significant roles, representing the involvement of the whole pack in the achievement of the 16 Webelos Scouts. Two Cub Scouts guarded the U.S. flag and the pack flag for the entire hour, out of respect and concern that the wind might blow down the flag stands. Four other Cub Scouts stood at stations at the bridge, representing the points along the Cub Scout trail: Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, and Webelos.
But how do you make the evening really special for the graduates?
"What you want is a sense of awe," noted Cubmaster McAdams in describing the details of the ceremony. Instead of having the adult leaders run the ceremony, McAdams requested the services of area Boy Scouts.
In response, Skye Schell, Order of the Arrow lodge treasurer and junior assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1533, donned the garb of "Chief Akela of the Webelos Tribe" and delivered an oration. As he approached the campfire in his regalia, a hush fell over the crowd, a silence broken only by an insistent chorus of spring peepers from the nearby woods.
The wide-eyed Webelos Scouts sat cross-legged around the campfire, watching "Chief Akela" and absorbing every word of his exhortation. They had heard the same script delivered at previous graduations, but the words of this mysterious chiefwith his low, slow intonation and his solemn hand motionswere particularly meaningful this time, because he was talking directly to them.
Every word in the script emphasized the honor and growth in character these boys had achieved over the years. Beginning with the moment the boys joined the pack, when "the Cub Scout trail looked long and dark," the chief took the boys from rank to rank, showing how the things they had learned helped to brighten the trail, all the way through to the Arrow of Light.
As each rank was mentioned, Mark Haseman, senior patrol leader of Troop 1533, touched his candle to the candle of the Cub Scout who represented that rank, showing how the light grows with each new advancement.
"As we look back down our Cub Scout trail," concluded the chief, "we see how bright the pathway is. Bright because you Webelos Scouts have helped to make it so. You light the pathway for yourselves and others by doing your best and giving good will."
After Chief Akela dismissed the Webelos Scouts from the campfire circle, senior patrol leader Mark Haseman greeted them at the bridge, giving a hint of the adventures awaiting them.
"As you'll soon find out, the boys run the Boy Scout troop, not the Scoutmaster or the parents," said Haseman, 17. "I've learned so much in Boy Scouts: how to tie knots, leadership, responsibility, and camping skills. I've canoed for a whole week near the Grand Canyon, and I've even been to Philmont Scout Ranch."
Then, to help get the new Scouts hooked right away, he added, "Oh, and we have a canoe trip coming up next monthand I invite you all to join us!"
As soon as they crossed the bridge, each boy received a new troop neckerchief from patrol leaders William Ames, 13, and Nick Schell, 12, as a symbol of membership in the troop.
For many of the boys, receiving the Boy Scout neckerchief and shaking hands with the Scoutmaster and troop leaders meant their Boy Scout career had begun. Half of them immediately ran down the field with their patrol leader to get their first briefing on how to use The Boy Scout Handbook, until a sharp whistle brought them back to finish the ceremony.
As a concluding surprise to the ceremony, committee chairman Mark Chevalier asked for silence while he read a letter to the group. The correspondence, he announced, was from the "National Association of Capture The Flag Contests" (but actually written in hilarious legalese by Cubmaster McAdams, who happens to be an attorney). Its message noted that the upset win by the boys over the parents at a recent parent-son camp-outthe first boy victory in Capture the Flag in pack historyhad been investigated by the "association" and due to various "violations" (including illegal water breaks while in "jail"), the boys' win was declared null and void.
The boys' immediate response was to mob the chairman and "capture" his letter, providing a perfect, lighthearted conclusion to the ceremony.
Yes, the setting had been perfect, the traditions beautiful, the words of the ceremony inspiring, and the crossing over had brought tears to the eye.
But what made this ceremony so ideal was that parting gift of goofinessfrom a Cubmaster who clearly knows what boys like.
Cathleen Ann Steg is a Scouting magazine contributing editor. She lives in Fairfax, Va.
A Simpler Ceremony
What if you only have a few boys graduating, instead of 16 as described in the accompanying article? And you have to meet indoors? Here are some ideas for simpler, but still memorable, ceremonies:
Turn down the lights and enjoy the magic of an indoor "campfire." Tuck a flashlight or fluorescent camp lantern inside a fire built of logs and plenty of orange tissue paper.
Or follow the example of Cubmaster Jolene Keefer of Pack 1114, Falls Church, Va. With just five boys to graduate, she used these simple but effective ideas for their April 26 graduation at Mosby Woods Elementary School:
Where can you go to find a good ceremony for your Webelos Scout graduation?
The Birth of Traditions
Traditions begun at these graduation ceremonies help to create a history for the pack and a bond for the members. The Pack 1533 bridge is one classic example of traditions that can last far beyond the expectations of their creators.
Handed down from Cubmaster to Cubmaster, the old bridge almost didn't survive to the 2000 ceremony. The pieceshandpainted wall-to-wall-carpet tubes, wooden stands, and piles and piles of lashing ropehad been stored in a carport for nearly a decade. Chipmunks, birds, and mice made happy homes and busy highways in those tubes over the years.
Finally, tired of the annual nest clean-out, the pack committee suggested switching to a less bulky, more easily stored, design. The look of horror on the boys' faces at the thought of ending such a vital pack tradition convinced the adults that the bridge must remain.
So, even though the lashings provide a challenge each spring, and even though a gust of wind blew the entire bridge over just as the pack dads and helpful Boy Scouts had nearly finished building itthe first timefor the 2000 ceremony, this tradition continues as a very tangible symbol of the ties that connect the pack with its 35-year-old roots.
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