Some nights, when she is far enough away from the city, Emma Pierce looks up at the darkened sky and marvels at the Milky Way. Being out in nature, with the cool air and campfire stories, is one of her happiest places.
“It’s like you are the only one that exists, and the only thing that matters at that moment,” she said. “And that’s what makes it so special.”
For Emma, a junior at Harpeth Hall, a love for hiking, camping, and the outdoors inspired her to follow a path less taken. In February, she will be recognized as an Eagle Scout — the highest rank a scout can achieve and one previously reserved for boys. With the achievement, Emma will join a select group of young women becoming the first female Eagle Scouts in the world.
“I have been doing all the stuff you do in boy scouts my whole life,” she said. “It was always a hobby.”
Now, it has become a hobby with a purpose.
New challenges, new skills
On Feb. 1, 2019, the Boy Scouts program changed its name to Scouts BSA and opened the path for girls ages 11 to 17 to pursue the organization's highest rank.
Eagle Scout hopefuls must earn 21 badges and hold leadership positions as a Life Scout within their troops for at least six months. They must also plan, develop, and complete a service project — which often serves as the culminating achievement for those pursuing Eagle rank. A Scout must meet all the requirements before turning 18 years old.
Scouts who are boys may have been working on their Eagle Scout status as early as age 10. For young women such as Emma, that timeline has been significantly accelerated.
She joined the Scouts BSA program the first month she was eligible in 2019. In her first month as a Scout, Emma started a troop with six other girls. The group was sponsored by St. George’s church, which also sponsors Troop 31 for boys — one of the oldest troops in Nashville. With more than 100 boys and 100 years of history, it was natural to wonder how they would work together. Emma said she loves the BSA community. It has been very accepting — and she has been thrilled to be a part of it.
For almost two years, she has worked to collect badges in first aid, citizenship, communication, emergency preparedness, camping, aviation, environmental and nuclear science, climbing, archery, and many other areas as she learns to be self-sufficient and dedicated to serving others. She also served as a patrol leader and senior patrol leader in her troop.
“It’s cool to learn new skills,” she said.
'In the end, something beautiful happens'
For her service project, Emma built three hydroponic systems for Williamson County Schools Alternative Learning Center so the students can learn to garden at school. Emma researched the mental health benefits of gardening and connected with the idea of helping other kids get through tough stretches in their lives by growing and caring for something else.
“Kids can face a lot of problems that are hard to solve,” she said. “Gardening has been proven to be therapeutic, help with anger management, and it can teach the kids responsibility, care, and so much more. It takes time and a lot of work, but in the end, something beautiful happens.”
Equipped with power tools and PVC pipe, Emma spent part of her Winter Break constructing the gardening systems. She led the project in her family's garage, assisted by a couple of friends from her troop.
At the turn of the new year, she met with Williamson County Alternative Learning Center Principal Josiah Holland and delivered the completed project.
“The kids at this school don't always have it easy going,” Emma said. “So as they grow herbs and berries they can reap the benefits of the work they put in. My goal for this project is to help brighten the lives of these kids, even if it is just with something small.”
On February 8 — the 111th anniversary of scouting — BSA will officially recognize the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. When that happens, Emma will make history as one of the first girls in the world to achieve the rank.
True to her character, Emma brushes aside any pride that may come with this glass-ceiling-breaking milestone. That’s not why she pursued the rank of Eagle Scout.
“You can get a patch, but at the end of the day, it’s cloth — something that can get lost,” she said. “The title doesn’t matter. It’s how you get there, what you learn, and the memories you make on the journey.”