Celeste Rios, a Saugus High School graduate and freshman at CSUN, is known for going “above and beyond” in everything she does. A highly-decorated member of Scouts BSA, the flagship program of the Boy Scouts of America, Rios earned 43 merit badges – more than double the amount required – to become the first-ever female Eagle Scout in the 76-year history of Troop 94 in Sylmar.
Rios joined the local troop at the age of 14 and steadily rose through the ranks – from Scout, Tenderfoot, 2nd Class, 1st Class, Star, Life, and now to Eagle Scout. Fellow scouts, BSA leaders, family and friends were on hand for a Court of Honor presentation and dinner in San Fernando on Aug. 6 in recognition of Rios’ historic achievement.
The Eagle Scout ranking is widely regarded as the pinnacle achievement in scouting, representing the culmination of earning a minimum number of merit badges and completing specific related projects. But for Rios, it has more personal significance.
“I know for some people it’s about an accumulation of all this knowledge in scouting, but for me the knowledge part came easy; it was the leadership part that I really worked on,” she told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. “Earning Eagle meant to me that I was now able to face the world as an adult who has all the skills and tools necessary for success.”
Rios said her involvement in scouting happened unexpectedly. When her mother decided to sign up her younger brother for the Boys Scouts, she was surprised to learn that the organization had recently started allowing girls to join BSA troops nationwide. Knowing her nature-loving daughter – who adored being outdoors and sometimes even cried if she couldn’t bring home worms or other creatures – she thought it might be a perfect fit.
That turned out to be an understatement, noted Rios with a laugh.
“I had never really been involved in clubs or sports, and my mom thought this would be something I might be interested in, and it ended up taking off really well with me,” she recalled. When she joined Troop 94, she was the third female; today there are seven.
Not long after joining, she was drawn by the lure of the coveted Eagle Scout ranking, which symbolizes years of dedication to earning merit badges in a variety of categories, such as communication, emergency preparedness, environmental sustainability and more.
For Rios, her involvement in BSA scouting has been both rewarding and educational, giving her hands-on experience in many areas related to her future career aspirations.
“I hope to eventually work doing research in our national parks or with the state [doing] conservation work, like for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” said Rios, who is majoring in biology. Her passion is environmental stewardship, she explained.
“I always like just being outside, and I would really like to [help maintain] our environment, to make sure it’s still available for the future generations,” she said.
Regarding her historic turn as the first female to be named an Eagle Scout during the nearly eight-decade history of Troop 94, Rios said she feels honored to have earned that distinction. At the same time, Rios continued, she said she also feels sad because it’s a reminder that many young women in the past never had the same opportunities she did.
“In particular about being the first female Eagle Scout, I know it means a lot to people who weren’t able to participate in scouting before,” said Rios, noting that she feels especially bad for the girls and young women who barely missed the chance to join Scouts BSA when the organization officially opened its doors to females in 2019.
At 18, Rios has now officially aged out of BSA’s youth scouting program, but she plans to continue working with the organization as an adult leader in her troop, and plans to eventually join BSA’s Venturing scouting program, which is for adults ages 18 to 21.
“I’ve known Celeste and her family for many years; she’s a very, very impressive young lady,” said Victor Garza, an assistant scoutmaster and local board member for Scouts BSA. Not only is Rios trilingual (she speaks English, Spanish and French), she has completed numerous merit badge projects in pursuit of Eagle Scout status, including a community project at her high school that involved replanting three large gardens with native California plants, with the goal of making them “pollinator and drought friendly.”
Garza said he believes “it’s a great, great thing that scouting has changed” and that the Boy Scouts organization started allowing females to officially become members. He said he knows some BSA leaders who previously had more traditional mindsets about keeping the genders separated who have evolved in their thinking after witnessing the changes firsthand.
“[Part of] scouting, which many people don’t know, is teaching leadership skills,” said Garza, describing many of the female scouts he has worked with as “natural” leaders.
The bottom line, he continued, is that whether scouts are males or females, the 12 principles of Scout Law remain the same for everyone: “[To be] trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”