Overcoming obstacles - Pequot Lakes Eagle Scout recounts accomplishments
About 2.4 million youths in the United States participate in Boy Scouts of America.
But only a small portion of those kids—roughly 4-6 percent, according to scoutingmagazine.org—will attain the organization's highest rank, the Eagle Scout.
As of October, Sam Clement is now among those statistics.
Just like any Eagle Scout, hard work, dedication and perseverance boosted the 21-year-old from Pequot Lakes to the top, earning him the coveted Eagle Scout title. Unlike other Scouts though, Clement overcame unique obstacles on his way to success.
"I'm just very proud of him because he worked really hard to get this award," said Brad Becklin, Clement's neighbor and mentor, after taking a moment to compose himself and control his emotions when asked about his role in Clement's accomplishments.
"Sam has shown a lot of commitment," Clement's mom, Lynne, added as she gazed at her son during an interview Friday, Jan. 4. "A lot of the events or the badges took him longer, and he just needed a lot of dedication, and he did it."
"It was challenging," the new Eagle Scout admitted—though not keen on discussing any of his hardships—as he donned his Scouting uniform, complete with a sash full of merit badges chronicling his decade-long journey.
Awards for completing activities related to various fields, such as first aid, photography, personal management, communications, astronomy and a plethora of others come in the form of merit badges, small, round patches for Scouts to sew onto their sashes and display their accomplishments. At least 21 are required for a Boy Scout to become an Eagle Scout.
"And because Sam is Sam, they kind of customized the merit badge progression," Clement's dad, Pete, said.
Clement earned more than the required 21 badges, he discovered after counting up 29 on his sash and remembering a few others waiting to be added.
"It's hard to pick just one of my favorites," the Scout said while glancing through his patches.
Outdoor sports were fun.
Personal management and first aid were challenging but doable.
And if he had to choose a favorite or two, chess and geology would rank high.
After learning how to play chess for his merit badge, Clement developed an attachment to the game and went on to create a chess club at Pequot Lakes High School before graduating. But his affinity for the activity didn't stop there.
"This year, I'm a volunteer para at Eagle View Elementary for two days a week," he said. "I'm teaching the kids how to play chess."
And geology, Clement added, has become a personal hobby.
Some of the merit badges, though, weren't quite solo accomplishments for the Eagle Scout. He acknowledged help and guidance from his parents, Scoutmaster Jeff Benson and neighbor Becklin, the last of whom who used his own Eagle Scout experience to help Clement with about half a dozen merit badges.
"I felt a special need to try my best to help him out," Becklin said of Clement. "He's such a special person all around."
Having known Clement for most of the Scout's life, Becklin feels a special connection to his young neighbor.
"I have a special love for him," Becklin added. "He has a smile on his face 24/7. He's just the happiest person that I know, bar none."
After earning all the required merit badges, prospective Eagle Scouts must complete a service project that in some way benefits the scout's community, church, school or any other organization other than the Boy Scouts of America.
Clement built a picnic table—a simple enough sounding project that had a greater effect than one might think.
It's a convertible picnic table, aimed at accommodating kids in wheelchairs.
"It's a full picnic table, but it's two-sided," Clement's dad, Pete, explained. "So that way the table part of it flips over, so they can roll a wheelchair in there."
The table now sits at Camp Confidence in East Gull Lake.
"I'm friends with the manager of Camp Confidence, so he had a file cabinet of Eagle Scout project ideas," Clement said, explaining his choice of the picnic table. "He told me they put it right next to the petting zoo."
Camp Confidence is an outdoor center, catering to people with developmental and cognitive disabilities, as well as the deaf and hard of hearing communities.
"I feel happy for the kids that it's being used and that they enjoy it," Clement said of his table, which he estimates took about six weeks to complete.
Builders FirstSource donated the materials. After putting parts of it together at home with his dad and his sister's boyfriend, Clement took the pieces to his troop members, who helped assemble the finished product.
Then Camp Confidence, a special place to Clement, had a small ceremony when the new table arrived.
As the newly minted Eagle Scout talked about his road to accomplishment Friday, there wasn't much he left out. He spoke of his induction into the Order of the Arrow, a national honors society recognizing Boy Scouts who best exemplify the Scout oath and law in their daily lives.
He spoke of his impending Eagle Scout ceremony, scheduled for next weekend, and his plan to become an adult leader for Troop 102 in Pequot Lakes going forward.
"I'm very attached to my troop," Clement said, referring to the younger scouts as his buddies.
He spoke fondly of the mentors and role models who helped him get this far.
He spoke of life outside the Boy Scouts, of managing the Pequot Lakes boys basketball team and working with the youths at his church, Grace United Methodist.
But there was one thing the Scout didn't want to talk about—the reason he was able to continue on with the scouts after age 18 and why building a table for Camp Confidence meant so much to him, the element that makes his Scouting accomplishments perhaps even more impressive, if that's possible.
Clement has cerebral palsy.
Both Pete and Lynne have seen their son undergo numerous surgeries and overcome countless obstacles, especially in his Scouting career, and the parents are proud to see his accomplishments.
Becklin said his young neighbor never dwells on his diagnosis, doing anything and everything he wants.
"The kid thinks he can do anything," Becklin said.
And if Clement's achievements are any indication, that neighborly statement seems to hold up.