Maine Coast Semester 59 student Sydney Ireland slipped away from her classes last week to give an epic series of interviews to the BBC World Service, PBS News Hours, ABC, CBS, NBC, Now This, the Los Angeles Times, and a host of other media eager to get her reaction to a historic announcement: the Boy Scouts of America had decided to accept girls.
At four years old, Ireland resolved to become a Boy Scout. It was simple: her brother was doing things she wanted to do. She became an unofficial member of the Cub Scouts, eventually earning its highest award, the Arrow of Light. For the past five years, as an unofficial member of NYC’s Boy Scout Troop 414, Ireland has been very publicly asking for a change in the rules.
“I am excited about Sydney’s role as a changemaker,” says Susan Feibelman, the head of Maine Coast Semester. Articulate and determined, Ireland is also polite and modest. Her civility lends power to her advocacy. The Washington Post ran her persuasive op-ed (“I’m a girl. I’ve been part of the Boy Scouts for years…”) on August 25, building pressure on the organization that she loves.
Ireland readily acknowledges that Girl Scouts serves many girls well, but she isn’t one of them. She had set her sights on becoming an Eagle Scout, an achievement shared by many astronauts, presidents, and other leaders. Now she knows that if she can do the work to earn the rank, she will be officially recognized. Young girls will be able to join Cub Scouts in 2018; older girls can join Boy Scouts the following year.
“This was definitely the most intense time,” Ireland says, responding to a question about how she has balanced her advocacy role with academic and other responsibilities. “Those two days”–October 11, the day of the Boy Scouts’ announcement; and the day after—”were amazing.” Chewonki’s advancement office became impromptu headquarters as Communications Director Cullen McGough fielded calls and set Ireland up for interview after interview (see photos to get the ambience).
A student at the Nightingale/Bamford School in Manhattan, 16-year-old Ireland told BBC reporter Nuala McGovern she was “overjoyed” and that she feels she “did play a part” in the long-awaited decision. ”I was a voice for so many other girls [who] also wanted to be part of…the amazing organization that the Boy Scouts is. And I feel like I helped to…open up doors and opportunities for young women to become members…[The decision] makes the future of the country even stronger, because girls will now have the same opportunities in the Boy Scouts.”
No matter where you stand on this change of policy for the Boys Scouts of America, we can all agree that Ireland has earned a merit badge in “civic engagement.”