by Kathryn Bold, University Communications
When UCI undergraduate Ruben Hipolito learned he was chosen from among 3.5 million Boy Scouts to represent the organization before the U.S. president and Congress this month, he followed the official scout motto: Be prepared.
Hipolito, assistant scoutmaster of Huntington Beach Troop 1134, was one of seven distinguished scouts who met with President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to deliver the Boy Scouts' Report to the Nation, an annual summary of scouting's accomplishments.
By the time he was summoned to the Oval Office March 2 for the delegates' appointment with the president, he had carefully rehearsed what he would say and do — though he still lost sleep the night before in anticipation.
"I was extremely excited and nervous to meet Obama," he says. "We all shook his hand, and I made sure I shook his hand twice because I couldn't believe it. I was able to tell him it was an honor to meet him. He seemed very caring and kind-hearted — and a great supporter of scouts."
Hipolito presented President Obama with a ceramic Eagle, the scouts' symbol, and thanked him for his service to the country.
He also went off-script while in the Oval Office, making sure to touch the president's historic, 19th-century desk when no one was looking. After the meeting, the delegates immediately "bumped into" first lady Michelle Obama.
"She hugged all of us and told us she was excited we were Boy Scouts, and that we should stick with it," Hipolito says. "That was quite special."
During their four-day stay in Washington, D.C., the scouts also met Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They toured local landmarks and visited the Pentagon, meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and lunching with Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (See Report to the Nation slide show.)
"It was definitely the experience of a lifetime," Hipolito says.
Hipolito represented the nation's Sea Scouts, a coed nautical program for 14- to 21-year-olds. "It's scouting on sailboats," he says.
A 20-year-old Midway City resident, he has moved swiftly through the ranks of scouting, becoming an Eagle Scout at age 12 — five years before most garner the required 21 merit badges. He has also earned the top Sea Scout rank of quartermaster and the Venturing Silver Award — the highest honor bestowed in the scouts' adventure program for older youths.
"It's like the Triple Crown of scouting — they're the highest awards a youth can earn. It's extremely rare for someone to have all three," says retired Navy Capt. Richard Cuciti, commodore of the Orange County Sea Scout Squadron, who nominated Hipolito for the national delegation.
Hipolito was Santa Ana Scout of the Year in 2005 and 2006, Los Angeles County Scout of the Year in 2005 and Orange County Scout of the Year in 2006. The scholarships are awarded by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
He has 67 merit badges, another rare achievement, and boasts three Eagle Silver Palm Awards — one for every 15 extra badges.
"If it wasn't for scouting, I would not have had direction or known what I wanted to do," Hipolito says. "Scouting has exposed me to hiking, archery, motorboating, chemistry, farm mechanics — all kinds of things. That's how I fell in love with sailing." He has honed his seamanship skills through the UCI Campus Recreation sailing program and shown other scouts the ropes as boatswain, the top-ranking Sea Scout ship's officer.
He's also one of Peter's People, current students telling potential incoming freshmen to "expect the unexpected" at UCI.
"Ruben is very motivated and very smart. He learned the ideals of scouting and put them into play by helping younger scouts grow and mature," Cuciti says.
The eldest of eight children, Hipolito says all of his siblings except one — a 3-year-old — are in scouting. He loves kids and hopes to attend medical school and become a pediatrician after getting his bachelor's in biological sciences and Spanish.
"There's no stopping that young man when he sets his sights on a goal," Cuciti says. "He's got a great life ahead of him."