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Wings of an Eagle

Matthew Kirby travels to Thailand and earns top Scout Badge

Success has been Matthew Kirby’s style for all of his 14 years.

But as the Odell youth stood before 60 fellow Boy Scouts, family members and friends at his Eagle Court of Honor, his father told him he would fail.

“I challenge you to fail,” said Nick Kirby. “You’ve had failures along the way and you will have failures in the future,” said the Scoutmaster of his son’s Troop 378 and an Eagle Scout himself. Nick pointed to Thomas Edison’s 13,000 attempts to perfect the first light bulb and Abraham Lincoln’s election losses in his early political career.

Matthew made a slight fumble in his first ceremonial act as an Eagle, when he dropped the Eagle Mother’s pin. He smiled briefly, picked up the pin, and calmly attached it to Carolyn Kirby’s lapel.

Matthew, who went to Thailand on his own last year while still 13, who sang the National Anthem in front of 15,000 people at the September 2000 regional Scouting jamboree, quietly took his biggest step on Feb. 16, earning the rank of Eagle Scout.

At the international Scout Jamboree in Thailand, Matthew’s activities ranged from making bricks to build a school to taking a bus trip to a theme park — “Mini Siam.”

“We have a Scout here tonight who’s been pretty busy,” said Steve Yackel, council executive, in presenting Matthew with his Eagle Badge on Feb. 16. Yackel said Matthew is one of two or three out of 100 Scouts who make Eagle.

“I imagine you had a lot of help,” he said.

Matthew, who was Cub Scout of the Year for Mid-Columbia District in 2000, earned 45 Merit Badges, well beyond the 21 required to make Eagle. He also extensively fulfilled the leadership requirements to become an Eagle, having served as patrol leader, quartermaster, and historian. He currently serves as Den Chief for the Webelos Cub Scouts of Pack 378.

“What matters is not what you wear on your chest but what you do with your life for other people,” Council executive Ralph Voelker told Matthew and his peers. “Merit badges are there to help you learn how to jump through the hoops in life. If one dream closes, you work on another.”

“All of you had a hand in this,” Matthew said at the end of the ceremony at Crag Rats Hut in Pine Grove. “Scouts, my parents, my teachers, I want to thank you all. I am really touched by this ceremony. It meant a lot to me.”

One emblem Matthew can truly claim as his own is the patch that he designed and was worn by all Scouts from the Pacific Rim Western Region at the 2003 World Jamboree in Thailand.

Matthew was gone from Dec. 26 through Jan. 10 to the 20th World Scout Jamboree in Sattahip, Thailand. About 30,000 Scouts there from all over the world, including 600 from the U.S. attended. Matthew was one of only seven Scouts from Oregon, part of a Pacific Rim troop with Scouts from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Japan and Korea.

To make the trip, he applied in October 2001 and spent more than a year raising money — $4,000 total. His parents offered to pay half if Matt raised the other half.

Carolyn Kirby said, “We decided it would be a good educational experience for him, so we offered to pay half.”

Matthew made and sold cider, mowed lawns, and babysat to raise money, and also received a $500 scholarship from Scouts of America.

The trip was Matthew’s first time overseas. The 24-hour flight went from Portland to Seattle, Japan, and Bangkok.

Matthew and his American, Japanese and Korean troop members camped in tents within a 40-by-200 foot area surrounded by British, Australian, and Thai Scout troops.

“It was like an Olympic Village,” Matthew said. “I started picking up their accents.”

Carolyn said, “One of the reasons he was there was to build bridges with other cultures.”

Patches were a kind of currency among the international group; Matthew took a baggy full of old patches to trade — and came back with patches from all over.

At Jamboree, Matthew went to some seminars, and other times just hung out with Scouts from other countries.

He said the Scouts had wonderful hosts.

“The Thai people are very content and peaceful. Thailand is called the Land of Smiles, and it’s true — everyone smiles all the time,” Matthew said. “Thais are really enthusiastic. They define enthusiastic.”

The Jamboree started with an address by King Bhumibol Adulyyadej. In the days to follow, Scouts enjoyed organized activities including workshops on various topics, from environmental issues to global peace. Activities and ceremonies were held in an arena similar to a soccer field that they watered every day with fire trucks to keep the grass green.

“Otherwise it was so dry, it would just die,” Matthew said. The weather was very hot; normally Jamborees are held in summer (so Scouts don’t miss school) but since Thailand is so hot, it had to be scheduled in winter. Matt missed a week of school.

“The experiences he got are not things you can pull out of a book,” Carolyn said.

Part of his experience was familiar — he did most of the cooking for his Jamboree troop.

“I’ve always been the troop cook. I like to cook,” Matthew said. The Scouts sometimes ate in the Swedish, Portuguese, Thai and Austrian camps during the 12-day Jamboree.

For the final two days of his trip, Matthew visited Bangkok, which is a monarchy, and saw the Royal Palace.

Matthew made good friends with a couple of British Scouts. If he goes to the next Jamboree, in England, he hopes to stay with them. In the meantime, he will keep in touch over e-mail. Matthew used instant messaging to communicate with his parents while he was in Thailand.

“At least I knew he was alive and well,” his mother said.

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