But James Calderwood Jr., 18, of Chevy Chase, Md., has reached another level and earned every possible merit badge.
Calderwood has earned 121 merit badges — actually 122, but his atomic energy badge was discontinued right after he earned it.
"I earned the 21 probably in seventh grade — there's other stuff you have to do for Eagle as well," he told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. "After I earned 100 badges, around eighth or ninth grade, I decided I need to keep going for it and see where this can take me."
The Georgetown Preparatory School senior has met scouting requirements in fields ranging from public health to archery since launching his scouting career in first grade. He said the hardest one was bugling.
"I never really planned on getting all the badges and I've never been very musically gifted," he said. "I was on five different continents over the summer and everything so I had to bring my trumpet mouthpiece with me and practice. I took it to the top of Kilimanjaro in Africa, Japan and every place else so, yeah, after a lot of months of practicing, I got it two days before my 18th birthday."
All the badges must be earned before the 18th birthday. It's a daunting task and he received a little bit of help from his father, James Calderwood Sr.
"I helped some," he said. "I think we could say that he really earned all these badges himself. He's been a very, very curious child to have and he's been — he's been really aggressive in going after these things and just learning things. So his mom and I have just been very supportive of him. He's the one that earned these things and it was great working with him."
James Calderwood Jr. has gone above and beyond. He studied astrophysics at Johns Hopkins University to earn Astronomy badge, lived with Hopis and Navajos in Arizona earning an Indian Lore badge, and has worked as medical volunteer in Peru, Kenya and Guatemala. His mother Joyce Johnson said he never stopped working towards his goal.
"Well, for example, when we went to the Grand Canyon on vacation one year, when we took the nature walks, we would take a lot of the bird ones, so he did bird study work on that vacation," she said. "For astronomy, when we were in Peru, he had to look at constellations. We went out and had a local person there show him where the southern hemisphere constellations were. It's added to our family life as well. He was the one who had the leadership, getting it all done."
He has also put his skills to good use. Using knowledge attained from his fire safety badge, Calderwood Jr. helped put out a fire while he was on a camping trip.
"There was a cabin nearby and somebody had used it for the season," he said. "There was a squirrel nest in the chimney they didn't know about. They started the fire. The squirrel nest caught on fire and set the whole roof ablaze. I had a fire safety merit badge. I got all the scouts together. And we started pumping the water out of the pump. And the pump went dry so we all had to organize a chain down to the stream. Eventually, we got the fire out before the fire department came."
Calderwood said he is hoping to go into medicine in the developing world when he finishes college.