The year was 1935. The Boy Scouts of America was building its first-ever National Scout Jamboree site in Washington, D.C. It was, by all indications, going to be an epic event. But a “serious epidemic of infantile paralysis” — polio — had other plans. The Jamboree was postponed. On the occasion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had been scheduled to host an event on the White House lawn, took to the radio waves to send a message of resolve and courage to Scouts around the country. Much of the nation listened on their tabletop radio. His message recognized the resilient nature of Scouting:
When you go out into life, you have come to understand that the individual in your community who always says, “I can’t” or “I won’t” or “I don’t,” the individual who, by inaction or by opposition, slows up honest, practical, farseeing community effort, is the fellow who is holding back civilization. …We need more Scouts. The more, the better.
By now, you know the rest of the story. The polio epidemic was defeated. The first BSA National Jamboree was held in 1937, with a sea of tents in the shadow of the Washington Monument. President Roosevelt was back and greeted the Scouts, praising Scouting as a great source of training in the virtues of good citizenship. The first National Jamboree was a spectacular success, laying the foundation for many to follow, and it demonstrated to the nation the resilience and resolve of Scouting. Scouting was here to stay.
We are living our own moment in time 85 years later. Scouting is being challenged on multiple fronts. We once again have the opportunity to demonstrate to the nation our strength, resilience and resolve as we work together to continue the mission of Scouting.
In times such as these, it is easy to feel frustrated. The enormity of the challenge is daunting. I find strength in the knowledge that the mission of Scouting is to change lives for the better. We develop character and leadership attributes one Scout at a time. I find strength in the ingenuity and passion of our local volunteers, professionals and parents, who work every day in the midst of a pandemic to ensure the delivery of the promise of Scouting.
Thank you all for being here tonight. Thank you for your dedication and your service to program. Thank you for continuing to be role models and setting a positive example for the youth in Scouting. Be safe, be kind to one another, and I look forward to seeing you all again.