It’s a moment Justin Neal will always remember.
He and his family were cleaning up after a banquet held to commemorate his achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout. In between sweeping floors and throwing away trash, a man and his son approached Justin.
“He told me that he wanted his son to grow up to be just like me,” Justin remembers. “It shocked me hearing an older guy tell me that.”
It was 2013, and Justin was just 16 years old. He had come a long way since his Scouting journey began in the second grade.
It started out as something to do with his dad who enjoyed outdoor activities. But Justin’s interest fluctuated until the fifth grade when a camping trip reminded him of why he had started. “We set up our own
shooting range and practiced our aim. We built fires and hiked. All of that appealed to me and brought me back.”
It wasn’t always easy to stay involved. Distractions and peer pressure challenged his commitment, especially during middle school.
“When talking about Scouting with my friends, a lot of them would laugh,” Justin says. “Sports were a big thing. There were misconceptions that Scouting was lame or boring. They thought it wasn’t something to take seriously.”
Justin’s dad and his Scoutmaster helped him stay the course. They encouraged him to look at the bigger picture of what Scouting could teach him and do for his character, especially if he persevered to reach the rank of Eagle Scout.
“They always reiterated the positive impact that could come from me serving as a role model for the younger guys who come after me,” Justin says. “There’s already a small percentage of guys who reach the rank of Eagle Scout and an even smaller percent of minorities. They pushed me to stay focused and remember that.”
But it was about more than achieving rank. “My Scoutmaster put an emphasis not only on finishing merit badges, but making sure we were getting life skills. There were days when he would sit us down and talk to us about school, making sure that we were doing our best.”
As Justin prepared to enter college and applied for scholarships, being identified as an Eagle Scout communicated much more than simply his participation in an extra-curricular activity.
“A lot of people would see ‘Eagle Scout’ on my resume and would look at me in a different light,” Justin says. “They know it is not a rank achieved by many, and that I’m willing to work. They know that a lot of hard work, dedication, and determination goes into it.”
Justin feels better equipped for his future because of the life skills he learned. “Each merit badge requires something different. They taught me things that I carry with me now, like how to speak in front of large crowds, how to manage money, and how to deal with family issues. I learned how to lead under pressure, when things aren’t necessarily going the right direction.”
Today Justin studies mechanical engineering at North Carolina A & T University. Although he is not sure where he will land professionally, he plans to stay involved in Scouting. “I think my talents are best put to use helping other people reach their potential,” he says.
Because of Scouting, Justin can help other young men experience moments they’ll always remember, too.