Samoas Don’t End at Age Twelve

Graphic by Emma Talkoff

Graphic by Emma Talkoff

By Emma Talkoff

Graphic by Emma Talkoff
Graphic by Emma Talkoff

Less than a month from now, I’ll find myself sitting at a campfire with dozens of girls who don’t reach up to my elbow, singing the same worn and familiar silly songs as every year. And as we launch into the third chorus of The Moose Song, a large part of me will feel ridiculous and embarrassed and annoyed. What am I doing here? Abundant evidence suggests that I’m too old for this; certainly I’d be mortified to be seen by my classmates singing this song. I don’t even want to tell most of them where I am: participating in and helping to lead a county-wide sleepover event for Girl Scouts of all ages. I imagine their reactions: “You mean… you’re still a Girl Scout?”

The phrase “Girl Scout” conjures the image of a pig-tailed elementary schooler, colorful boxes of cookies in tow. I don’t reject that image—it did, after all, once describe me. But what few people seem to realize is that scouting continues beyond childhood to the occasional rare specimen like me, a teenage Girl Scout.

I’ve been a Girl Scout for more than a decade–longer than I’ve maintained an interest in anything else, besides school (and let’s face it, my interest there is waning). I’ve attended the same sleepover-campfire event, Camporee, more times than I care to admit, and watched my role in it evolve from that of a halcyon young camper to a full-fledged leader. I understand that I’ve long exceeded the conventional shelf life for membership in this organization, but I’d like to make a case for myself, stand up for the few of us who know what it’s like to continue donning that sash year after year.

I won’t say that the idea of being a high school Girl Scout always appealed to me. There were countless times during those long, transitional middle school years when I dreaded each scouting event and questioned the merit of continuing. Moments like the annual rendition of The Moose Song hammered home the insecurities I felt about retaining my membership, painfully awkward reminders that I was rapidly outgrowing Girl Scouting and could only look foolish by continuing to participate. However, a combination of loyalty, guilt, and lingering nostalgia kept me involved, and I’m incredibly glad that it did because, now that I’ve passed those uncomfortable years, I’ve reached a point where scouting has taken on a new significance.

In a way, despite popular belief, Girl Scouting is actually the perfect pursuit for high schoolers. There are few other programs which allow for so much leadership involvement while still maintaining the level of choice that scouting does. By this point in my career I’ve graduated from attending local events and activities like Camporee to planning and leading them—ushering the next generation of scouts up through the ranks, as it were. Suffering through campfire songs becomes not just bearable but actually rewarding when you consider the sheer delight it’s bringing to all those elbow-high Brownies.

Volunteerism and leadership for older Girl Scouts extends beyond the local level. The Gold Award is a massive project-based achievement available only to scouts older than 14. It involves hours of work, extensive planning, and a level of communication with others that teenagers may not be used to. Working on my Gold Award has effectively forced me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to become more responsible.

But the true appeal of this project is its self-guided nature. The Gold Award is not only a huge commitment but one which scouts design and execute themselves from the ground up. Literally any issue or problem may be tackled. This openness allows girls to play to their strengths, choose an issue that matters to them, and design a plan of attack. While my project focuses on getting teenagers interested and involved with local history, other scouts I know are working to build chicken coops for underprivileged elementary schoolers or start service clubs at their schools.

I’m consistently impressed by and grateful for the Gold Award, and I think that it’s a missed opportunity that more teenagers don’t have the chance to embrace a service project which allows them to select an issue that resonates, rather than forcing involvement in a less personalized mode of community service. Having a conduit to making my personal mark on the world more than adequately compensates for serving time at mildly embarrassing campfires. This sense of self direction, along with the connection I feel with the Girl Scout community, are my favorite things about being a Girl Scout and, I think, good enough reason to defy the conventional age range for scouting. That, and the lucrative untapped market of high schoolers hungry for Girl Scout cookies.