It’s been said that the journey to become an Eagle Scout is like climbing a mountain.
In many ways, that’s a fair comparison. It’s not easy, and nobody can carry you to the top. When you reach that high point, your perspective improves and suddenly you can see what was obscured from ground level.
But the summit simile has some flaws. Once you become an Eagle Scout, it’s not downhill the rest of the way. There are more paths to traverse and mountains to climb. The high point isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.
Ava Look and Anniston Murphy understand this quite well. These two soon-to-be Eagle Scouts from Troop 1 of Olive Branch, Miss. (Chickasaw Council), extracted every ounce of experience they could from their Scouting journey. When they become members of the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts next month, they’ll join other impressive young women whose Scouting journey will help them rise to meet future challenges.
For Ava, 15, that means attending the University of Memphis to pursue a degree in international relations and a minor in Arabic. She hopes to become a field agent for the CIA.
“I love to travel and experience different cultures,” she says. “I also feel it’s my duty to help my country.”
For Anniston, 16, that means studying forensic science and becoming a crime scene investigator.
“By investigating crimes, I can help bring justice for victims’ families,” she says.
Ava and Anniston say these dreams became sharper and more attainable because of Scouting.
We asked them why.
Honor roll, on a roll
Ava and Anniston are honor roll students and very active in their communities. Like most teens before COVID, their Google Calendars were packed with events from dawn until dusk.
So what made them interested in adding another activity to the mix?
“I wanted to go on the adventures that were opened to females by the BSA and blaze a trail for younger girls,” Ava says. “My brother Eagled in 2016, and I was with him at Scouting events from Cub Scouts to his Eagle ceremony. It was finally my turn.”
And, to borrow from the meme, how was the expectation vs. the reality? A success, Ava says.
“There is a lot of repetitiveness of skills throughout the journey,” she says. “You don’t just learn it and move on. You continue to use and improve the skill while adding on to it.”
Anniston, who had the extra challenge of being Troop 1’s first senior patrol leader, agrees.
“The learning and activities were more involved and challenging than I anticipated,” she says.
Serving others, no matter what
For most young people, the Eagle Scout service project is the first time they’ll complete a full-scale project that wasn’t assigned by a teacher or other adult.
Every part of the project — planning, developing, fundraising, executing — is on the Scouts themselves.
If there is a better preparation for a career, I haven’t found it.
For her Eagle project, Ava coordinated and managed 3 COVID-safe, socially distanced workdays to assemble 20 breathable-mesh pet beds for puppies at the DeSoto County Animal Shelter in Nesbit, Miss.
“I learned that I needed to find a way to get everyone involved, keep everyone safe and try to have my fellow Scouts learn a new skill,” she says.
For her project, Anniston coordinated and oversaw the construction of three food storage cabinets for the Hope Mission Food Pantry.
“I learned that there are different levels of guidance needed for individuals,” she says. “The project had many different components of different skill levels, so I needed to assess the abilities of each participant and assign a task in which they would be successful and safe.”
COVID-19 made planning an Eagle project challenging. Anniston assigned work shifts to family pods, allowing only members of the same household to work in close proximity.
Other pandemic pivots included shifting merit badge learning and meetings online. For Ava, who was SPL during the earliest days of the virus, this meant working with her patrol leaders to make the best of a difficult situation.
“We only missed one or two meetings before we were moving forward virtually,” she says. “Most Scouts embraced it, and we stayed strong.”
As a troop, they eventually began camping again. Each Scout slept in her own tent, and outside of the tents they wore face coverings, sanitized everything and followed the BSA COVID guidelines.
“I was able to continue rank and merit badge advancements. I participated in many online merit badge classes offered by many different councils – it was very cool!” Ava says. “We’ve been very fortunate to have the support of our troop leaders and chartered organization during the pandemic.”
“Our Scoutmaster and assistant Scoutmasters have been great about meeting with us virtually for rank and merit badge requirements,” Anniston says. “Ava and I will soon be attending a virtual Space Exploration merit badge class with another council. It’s really interesting to get to participate with Scouts from around the country.”
Prepared for a career
Merit badges introduce Scouts to topics that might become a lifelong career, activity or hobby.
For Ava and Anniston, who have each known what they want to do for a career since eighth grade, some merit badges simply reinforced an existing passion.
Ava, the future CIA agent, enjoyed merit badges like American Cultures, Communication, Digital Technology and Citizenship in the Nation.
Anniston, the aspiring crime scene investigator, especially enjoyed Chemistry and Fingerprinting.
“Because rank advancements and merit badges require attention to every detail, I have learned to look at things more thoroughly and examine all the options and outcomes,” Anniston says. “I analyze which requirements are best for me, make a plan, and figure out how to complete them in the most efficient and useful way.”
Support for what comes next
It’s inspiring to see two young people with such a clear vision for their futures. But what if something changes that forces Ava or Anniston to move to a Plan B, C or D?
“I have learned that things rarely go as planned, so I have to go with the flow and always have a backup plan,” Ava says.
“I have learned to be adaptable and step up to help where it’s needed most,” Anniston says.
Though the Eagle journey was a solo endeavor, Ava and Anniston were never alone.
“I want to thank Scoutmaster Brian Look for starting the troop, challenging us to dig deeper and encouraging us when we struggled,” Anniston says. “And the Chickasaw Council for supporting and including us wholeheartedly.”
Ava could not agree more.
“We have always been invited to participate and welcomed at every event,” she says. “We’ve been given every opportunity that is available to a Scout, and we are so grateful.
“Thanks to the BSA for giving females the opportunity to become Scouts, learn amazing skills, develop connections with our community, and earn the rank of Eagle Scout.”