March is Women's History month: a time to remember the accomplishments of, and contributions by, women of many previous generations. These women rarely had an easy time of it as they pushed the narrow boundaries that confined their place in society. From the early suffragists, to those who continue to march for equal rights; we have a lot to thank our advocates for. It is the work of these history makers, that has helped society become more inclusive to women. We have seen changes, even recently, that have afforded our female students some excellent opportunities.
Meet Laura S., class of 2021. In 2019, when the Boy Scouts of America adjusted their iconic youth program to include female students, she was very excited to join. Her inclusion in Scouts BSA, the new name for their then 109 year-old program, meant that Laura was finally eligible to earn the highest rank of Scouts BSA Program: Eagle Scout. Female scouts had been able to join some of the more specialized Boy Scouts of America programs for the past several decades; but none of those female scouts had access to the pinnacle achievement of the organization. Until now.
For reference, the Eagle Scout rank requires strong leadership, mastery of a range of outdoor skills, and the famous Eagle Project — a service project that has a lasting impact on the community. Most scouts achieve the Eagle Scout rank in five to six years, but Laura is part of a group of amazing students who comprise the National Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts and have worked hard to achieve the rank in just two years. You can read a little bit more about her troop, and other local troops, here. I had a chance to ask her some questions about her fantastic achievement. Please read her answers, below.
Please tell me about your journey here: When did you join the Scouts BSA? (Were you a Girl Scout first?), how did you know you wanted to join the Scouts BSA?
I joined Scouts BSA (formerly the Boy Scouts) on the first day girls were able to — February 1st, 2019. However, this certainly wasn’t my first exposure to Scouting. My older brother is an Eagle Scout and grew up in the program. Since he’s 10 years older than I am, I have distinct memories of watching him go on these awesome camping trips. My mother also has some pictures of me helping him with his Eagle Project, but I was seven at the time, so the amount of help I actually provided is questionable.
When I was in kindergarten, a couple of my classmates started a Girl Scout troop. I have very fond memories of service projects, camping trips, and summer camps from that program. But I felt there was always something missing: I remember watching my brother disappear and return a week later on a backpacking trip in New Mexico. I thought that was so cool. I used to steal my brother’s Boys’ Life (now Scout Life) magazines to look at all the colorful comics, merit badges, and outings that these scouts were going on.
Once grade 8 rolled around, I joined Venturing, a co-ed BSA program for older youth. Through this program, I was able to get a taste of Scouts BSA — and at the age of 13, I finally got to go to that ranch in New Mexico like my brother! I attended my first Scouts BSA summer camp in 2016 and participated in an international exchange with Taiwanese scouts.
I owe a lot of my leadership and outdoor experience to my previous participation in these programs, but in 2017, the BSA announced that girls would be able to join their main Scouts BSA program, and I was ecstatic. I knew as soon as I heard that I wanted to join the program — to follow in the footsteps of my brother, have fun in the outdoors, and grow as a leader.
What has been one of your favorite aspects of being in the Scouts BSA?
Some of my favorite Scouting memories have been the high adventure treks: difficult week-long treks designed to challenge each individual. BSA runs four national high-adventure bases, each in a different location centered around different activities. From a 95-mile canoe trip in the Boundary Waters to sailing and snorkeling in the Florida Keys, these trips have been an incredible way to travel the country and spend my summers. I’ve been asked why in the world I would want to leave technology behind, trudge through the mud, and get eaten alive by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes in Minnesota are just absolutely feral - no amount of any kind of bug spray curbs their appetite. I think at some point I had so many scars from mosquito bites that a friend said they could play connect-the-dots or draw constellations on my arms. Add that to the enormous physical exertion and there have definitely been moments where my whole body feels like lead and I’m questioning my decisions.
However, there are brief moments of serenity on those trips where it’s just you and the wilderness. Drifting under the moonlight as the waves lap against the side of the boat, staying up to see the Milky Way and its dusting of stars, watching the world wake up as the sun peeks over the horizon. These are the moments that make all the weird food, the blisters, and the mosquito bites worth it.
At what point did you realize that you had the opportunity to become an Eagle Scout?
Honestly, I realized almost instantaneously. We have a phrase in Scouting: “Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.” Being an Eagle Scout is more than just the rank — it’s a standard of excellence and a commitment for life. Most people only know about the Eagle Project, but the long Trail to Eagle encompasses a wide range of requirements: merit badges, survival skills, leadership within your unit, and service to your community. I saw how the program transformed my brother, and to me, the Eagle Scout rank represents the essence of Scouting. It’s a growing experience that tosses you in the freezing deep end of the pond and forces you to swim out, making you a stronger leader and a better individual.
How do you feel about girls just recently being offered admission to the Scouts BSA? Do you feel like you missed out on something specific, given that you couldn’t join the Scouts BSA until 2019?
To some degree, I am jealous of the younger scouts, purely because I’ve made incredible memories and wish I had more time. However, I accepted that I wasn’t going to have the “traditional” experience early on and have tried to make the most of the time that I’ve had.
I get asked a lot about what the difference is between the two organizations and programs. It’s a natural question to ask. Girl Scouts teaches a lot of business, marketing, and teamwork skills. The program is structured around cooperation, learning together, and growing as a unit. On the other hand, Scouts BSA focuses more on the outdoors, survival skills, and individual growth supported by the unit. For me, as someone who’s interested in the environment and loves the outdoors, BSA was a natural fit, but I also came to love how youth-led the organization was.
I’m happy with the age I joined the program. I think I approached the program with a certain amount of experience and maturity that I would not have had whatsoever had I joined in middle school. I believe my journey to being an Eagle Scout was more challenging due to the limited time frame, but also infinitely more rewarding. I’m better able to grasp the impact of this historic group of young women and realize how I’ve changed as an individual over the past few years.
I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had — to represent Scouting on a national level to our nation’s leaders, to work with other female leaders across the district, and to grow alongside my peers. As my troop’s first Senior Patrol Leader (sort of like a club President), I had the task of shaping our troop and helping define its values. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to watch scouts I taught at the beginning go on to teach newer scouts what they’ve learned.
There’s a large amount of pride there — to have been a part of creating something that has and will continue to bring joy to so many young women, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Would you recommend that students of all genders join the Scouts BSA?
Absolutely! I believe I’m a lot more confident and independent because I’m able to take care of myself. You’re not going to learn how to build a fire, chop wood, or tie knots in a classroom. There’s a lot of small things you take for granted at home that suddenly become difficult while camping. Rain becomes a lot more significant, and I sincerely hope no one is having to use bleach and boiling water each meal to wash their dishes at home. It makes you appreciate the small things in life.
You’ll make new friends, explore new skills (like archery, metalworking, or sailing, to name a few), learn to manage people and plan events, and go outside! Scouts really forces me to unplug and take in the world beyond a Zoom screen, and I think we could all use a bit more of that right now.
Anything else you would like to share?
I’d like to emphasize that everyone’s different, and that it’s important to find the program and unit that works for you. My troop, Troop 582, goes on tons of camping trips and high-adventure treks, but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Regardless of which program or unit you end up with, there’s always a way to make a difference. Ultimately, you control your experience. There will be people that say you don’t belong, that you shouldn’t be there, and that you’re not a “real scout.” What you can control is how you respond: take it in stride and motivate yourself to be better.
Scouting is an extremely diverse community. In my troop, we have scouts of all ages, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and I believe that’s part of our troop identity. We welcome everyone, and they in turn allow us to experience bits and pieces of their lives. We’ve had service projects at temples, synagogues, and churches, cemeteries, trails, even mangrove forests — wherever we can help, regardless of affiliation. You don’t need to agree with someone to be kind and respectful, which I think is sometimes lost in contemporary discourse. Our community is connected by a desire and a drive to make a difference in the world — one outing, one project, and one scout at a time.
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