April 6, 2007 — -- Archaeology, emergency preparedness, textiles, personal fitness -- this seemingly random list of activities is just the beginning of the things James Calderwood has mastered.
Calderwood is a Boy Scout who's earned every single merit badge available. Twenty-one are needed to become an Eagle Scout. He earned all 122.
"I never really planned on earning all the merit badges," Calderwood said, "and if I had I definitely wouldn't have left bugling for the last one. I sort of started following my different passions and hobbies; and found merit badges a great way to learn about new things."
We'll get back to the bugling in a minute. Earning one merit badge -- much less 122 -- is no easy task. A scout must prove he is proficient at the task and is then quizzed by a professional in the field before he gets to sew that badge on his sash.
"Boy Scouts doesn't have a sash that holds all the badges, so I had to engineer my own sash. So I took three sashes and sewed them together so there are three parts to it," Calderwood said.
It took him six years to earn all the badges. Some of this high school senior's most memorable include fishing (his first badge), photography (a really big passion of his), Indian lore (after spending time with Arizona's Hopi Indians) and aviation.
"I spent a day at the Coast Guard's flight training center and actually got to fly a helicopter simulator there," Calderwood said. "Unfortunately, I crashed it into the aircraft carrier."
He said that the public health, medicine and first aid badges helped him get a taste for what he wants to do -- become a doctor and help people in the third world. That's something he already has had opportunity to do while earning his merit badges.
But first, back to the bugle. Calderwood earned his final merit badge just two days shy of his 18th birthday, the Boy Scout cutoff.
"Bugling was probably the hardest badge for me. I've never been musically talented or gifted," he said. "It would have been a shame to end it with one left to go."
The Boy Scouts don't keep records of scouts who have earned every merit badge, but they say it is very rare.
"Moving through scouting, it's really taught me a lot about leadership. There's no situation where I feel sort of useless in," he said. "There's always something I can do, some way I can help out."
Calderwood's bound for Kenya this summer -- to work in a health clinic.
This weekend, he plans to focus on which college to attend in the fall. It looks as if it will be either Columbia University or the University of Pennsylvania.
Wherever he goes, he might have to resist the temptation to take every course.