Family Treasures: What’s the significance of an Eagle Scout badge?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Family Treasures
Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks about his Eagle Scout BadgeAll of us have objects in our lives that convey meaning and significance. These objects tell stories about our values and how we acquired them. The stories remind us that values are not abstractions, but emotionally invested principles that shape our lives.

So, what values are conveyed in an Eagle Scout badge?

This week, OurValues is publishing a five-part series about a new activity guide for United America called Family Treasures. That free guide explains how to organize this experience for your class or small group. In this OurValues series of columns, we’re sharing some of our favorite stories participants have told us. Please, feel free to share this week’s stories with friends. The best way to start your own series is to show others these examples of what you might discover in your community.

In this Family Treasures exercise, leaders ask each person to bring a physical object that conveys their values and how they acquired them growing up. At this point, we’ve heard many fascinating stories that have surfaced in classes and small groups. The stories are a mixture of love, poignancy, joy, sadness, hope, and resilience amidst trials and tribulations. Nearly all of them are inspirational.

One of our favorites was told by Jim Jeffries who showed the group his Eagle Scout badge.

First, a little background: Eagle Scout is the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America. The requirements are arduous, and all must be completed before the boy turns 18 years of age. The requirements, according to the BSA site, include “merit badges, service project, active participation, Scout spirit, position of responsibility, and unit leader conference.” Only about 5% of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

Leaders in many fields of American life proudly list, among their accomplishments, having earned the badge, including more than 40 U.S. astronauts, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

What values does an Eagle Scout learn? There are many. Here’s Jim’s story: He was a Boy Scout in Maryland, where they stressed camping and backpacking. “When you start as an 11 year old, and do all that stuff,” Jim said, “it really gives you a sense of independence and self-confidence.”

When he was a young teen, Jim and friends would take some significant backpacking trips to the White Mountains. “You really learn a lot when you throw a 50-pound pack on your back and you start walking through the woods for a week and you come out on the other end. You can get hurt out there if you are not careful, so it really teaches you a lot of things.”

I recall hiking (and surviving) the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains, and I know what Jim is talking about.

So, for Jim, his Eagle Badge represents the core American values of self-reliance and achievement.

This week, I am asking all readers of OurValues:

What object in your life tells a story about your values?

Share your story!

The purpose of the OurValues Project and the United America book is to get Americans talking with each other—friends, neighbors and even total strangers who may enjoy gathering to talk about the values that unite us. That’s a dramatic and refreshing change for a lot of us, these days.

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

Star-Spangled Music Week: What did 1914 writers think about 2014?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
Scientific American 1914 issue with Woodrow Winson quote on the cover

WHAT DID 2014 LOOK LIKE A CENTURY AGO? To many American journalists, the future looked rosy! “The door of opportunity swings wide before us,” Wilson wrote in this 1914 issue of Scientific American. As we see on this cover, journalists 100 years ago also took pride in America’s patriotic symbols.

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of our national anthem. One-hundred years ago was the Star-Spangled Banner’s centennial.

What did Americans think then about the bicentennial in 2014?

This month, celebrations of the bicentennial abound. We’ve discussed the Smithsonian Institution’s “Raise a Glass to History” event this evening, the “Proudly We Hail” half-time show at the University of Michigan football stadium tomorrow, and the giant panda cub Bao Bao, winner of the Smithsonian’s Summer Showdown of American symbols. Yesterday, the 13th anniversary of 9/11, we paused to remember the victims of the tragedy, and the threat posed today by the jihadist group ISIS.

ISIS and 9/11 were beyond thought and imagination in 1914, even though World War I already was raging among the European powers. The world in 2014—as imagined in 1914—was a much more peaceful place, according to a 1914 editorial in the Baltimore Sun that was just reprinted. In fact, “the most signal advance which the world will make in the next century will be moral and intellectual in character….” Science and sociology would enhance human health and eradicate poverty. And so on.

The Baltimore Sun editorial was right in line with what other major American publications were predicting that year. President Wilson wrote a letter to Scientific American magazine about the nation’s future role in the world. “It will be a signal service to our country to arouse it to a knowledge of the great possibilities that are open to it in the markets of the world. The door of opportunity swings wide before us,” Wilson wrote. “Through that door we may, if we will, enter into rich fields of endeavor and success.” The Scientific American editors were so impressed that they quoted the first line of Wilson’s letter on the magazine’s cover.

Most predictions about the future prove wrong, but the Baltimore Sun writer 100 years ago got one right—and it’s about the Star-Spangled Banner:

“Let our hope and prayer be that a hundred years from now, whatever other changes time may have wrought, the people of 2014 may still see the same banner waving over them that waves over us, and still symbolizing the principles of justice, brotherhood and equality of opportunity.”

How will you mark the bicentennial of our national anthem?

Does it make you feel good to hear the national anthem—or see the flag flying?

Note: In case you’ve been wondering about the outcome of the Raise a Glass to History competition, the winner is Gunpowder Cream—a concoction made of pure maple syrup, aged rum, English Breakfast tea, lemon juice, whipped cream, and cinnamon.

Star-Spangled Music Week: ‘Old Glory’ versus … a Panda?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week

Bao Bao the Panda at the National Zoo in Smithsonian videoIf you had to pick the most iconic symbol of America, what would it be?

Would it be ‘Old Glory,’ the Stars and Stripes that was raised at Fort McHenry in 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our national anthem?

A portrait of George Washington, the father of our nation?

Something or someone else?

All summer long, the Smithsonian Institution has run its Summer Showdown, asking Americans to vote online for the most iconic symbols from among the Smithsonian’s collections. The contest has four categories—science, art, culture, and history—and six contenders in each one. More than 90,000 online votes were cast. After three rounds on voting, the finalists in each category are:

  • Science—Bao Bao, the giant panda cub born at the National Zoo.
  • Art—a portrait of George Washington.
  • Culture—A photo of Woody Gutherie.
  • History—Old Glory, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814.

Of these four, the finalists were—Old Glory and Bao Bao. In the final throwdown, I predicted that Old Glory would win. After all, this September is the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national anthem.

But it’s hard to beat an adorable panda. When the Smithsonian announced its winner, it was Bao Bao. The cub was born in August 2013, and is one of fewer than 2,000 pandas in existence. Here’s a Smithsonian video about Bao Bao’s first year …

How would you rank the 4 finalists?
Do you agree with Bao Bao as the #1 iconic symbol?
Is there another symbol that stands out for you?

Star-Spangled Music Week: Want to hear 1100-plus musicians?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
University of Michigan band performs in South Bend

Click the photo to see a 5-minute clip of the UofM band playing in South Bend.

Most people know three things about our national anthem: the name, lyrics, and how difficult it is to sing.

This Friday and Saturday, you have the opportunity to see over 1100 musicians perform the anthem! Want to hear them? Here’s how.

The extravaganza is the University of Michigan’s football halftime show, “Proudly We Hail,” at the Big House in Ann Arbor. It’s a celebration of the bicentennial this weekend of the birth of our anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

The show features the University of Michigan Marching Band, the University of Miami Marching Band, and the combined choirs from across the University of Michigan, including the Men’s Glee Club, the Women’s Glee Club, the University Musical Society Choral Union, and more. In total, over 1100 musicians will perform. The show will be narrated by University of Michigan musicologist Mark Clague.

Can’t make the game on Saturday? No worries. You have three other opportunities.

Friday night at 7 PM is a free dress rehearsal at the Big House. To get your free tickets, go to Click on “Promotion Code” at the top (3rd from right). Enter the promotion code: MMBDRESS. The rest is self-explanatory.

Another option is to watch the halftime show when it is televised—or when it inevitably appears on YouTube.

And, the third option is to view a recording of a University of Michigan Marching Band performance at South Bend last week. It’s not the grand extravaganza planned for this weekend, but the band did perform some patriotic music in South Bend. Here’s that link.

Do you plan to watch the “Proudly We Hail” show?

How will you and your family commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner?

Star-Spangled Music Week: Do alcohol and patriotism mix?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
Raise a Glass to History Smithsonian

PATRIOTIC COCKTAILS? Click on these images from the Smithsonian Channel to visit the “Raise a Glass” website.

This weekend marks an historic event in American history: It’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. (You’ll can read more about this historic milestone in Stephanie Fenton’s Holiday column.)

Shall we raise a glass to history?

You can do so at the Smithsonian Institution’s “Raise a Glass to History” celebration on September 12th in Washington, D.C., held at the National Museum of American History. The event features the nation’s top mixologists making cocktails “inspired by our spirited past” like Fort McHenry Flip, Colonial Ties, Of Thread and Theory, This Conflagration Nation, and Pickersgill Cocktail.

Simon Majumdar, the Food Network’s “toughest critic,” will host the event. Music is provided by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. A ticket is $200 because, well, it’s the 200th anniversary. Proceeds cover costs and benefit programming and research.

Francis Scott Key wrote his poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” on September 14, 1814, after witnessing the bombardment of the fort by the British the night before. He was inspired by the Stars and Stripes waving over the fort, indicating an American victory. It was a turning point in the long and brutal War of 1812.

Two hundred years later to the day, September 14, 2014, the University of Michigan features a faculty recital of Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Conducted by Jerry Blackstone, it includes a chorus and soloists, plus narration by musicologist Mark Clague. The event is free and open to the public. It takes place a 4 PM at the Hatcher Library, Room 100.

How do you plan to celebrate the bicentennial of our national anthem?

How well do alcohol and patriotism mix?

American Symbols: I don’t have the missing star—but I could!

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series American Symbols
Benjamin McKeehan who served in the Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812

Benjamin McKeehan who served in the Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812

The 15th star from Old Glory—the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry—is missing. I swear I don’t have it. But I could!

Tomorrow is Flag Day, a time when Americans celebrate the beloved American symbol, the stars and stripes. This Flag Day is special because this year is the 200th anniversary of the date when Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became our national anthem.

So far, we’ve featured a rendition of the anthem as it was sung in Key’s day, courtesy of our friends at Star Spangled Music. We invited you to RAISE IT UP!—the “group sing” of the anthem that takes place tomorrow. We viewed the worst national anthem nightmare, and discussed the mystery of the missing star taken as a souvenir from the flag that survived the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Today, I’ll tell you why I could have the missing star.

I am a descendant of Benjamin McKeehan, a Scotsman who immigrated to the United States in 1810—just in time to sign up for the War of 1812 and fight the British. The Scots and the British were not exactly friends, and Benjamin eagerly joined the fight. He enlisted in March 1812, according to the Roll of Captain Ambrose Arthur’s Company, Boswell’s Regiment, of the Kentucky Volunteers. (My aunt, who lives today in this part of Kentucky, says she knows the descendents of Ambrose Arthur.)

It was theoretically possible that Benjamin got the 15th star as a souvenir—after all, he was there. In fact, there’s an historical marker that commemorates his service. The star could be a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation.

But here’s the best evidence that I don’t have it. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s column, the missing 15th star was “cut out for some official person.” Benjamin, however, was just a private in the army, so it couldn’t be him.

Which American symbols mean the most to you?

Does seeing the flag or hearing the national anthem make you feel good?

Do you have any treasured American symbols?

American Symbols: The worst National Anthem nightmare!

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series American Symbols
See the entire video below.

See the entire video below.

What if you were singing the national anthem—and forgot the words?

Not so bad, if you were singing in the shower. But what if this happened when you were only 13 years old—and you were singing the anthem at a major league basketball game in front of thousands of sports fans? That would be the worst national anthem nightmare, wouldn’t it?

In 2003, 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert had been selected by the fans to sing the anthem at a Portland Trail Blazers’ home game. Before a packed stadium on April 25th of that year, she held a mike in her hand and began:

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last…last…

Forgetting the words, she buried her head and started to cry. The fans jeered and hooted. And then, a small miracle: Maurice (Mo) Cheeks, Trail Blazers head coach, rushed to her side. Putting his arm around her shoulders, Mo helped Natalie by singing the words with her. She started to recover and remember the lyrics.

The Rose Garden Arena crowd sang along with them. Natalie finished strong. The crowd gave them a standing ovation.

What could have been the worst moment of her young life became a positive turning point. And all because of a gentleman named Mo Cheeks.

Can you sing the national anthem?

Have you ever forgotten the words?

Care to know how the anthem was sung in Francis Scott Key’s day? Visit our friends at friends at Star-Spangled Music to hear what Key would have heard.