Though he has not yet earned his high school diploma, Michael Carter has flown a plane, backpacked through the Rocky Mountains and gone scuba diving.
He accomplished those feats not as a Jacques Costeau in the making but rather as an Eagle Scout attempting to achieve every merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts of America.
The Francis Howell High School senior recently achieved that goal, earning all 134 merit badges, one of only six Scouts in the country to do so, according to the website Merit Badge Knot, a registry independent of the BSA that keeps track of Scouts who have earned all available merit badges throughout the organization's history.
"I don't think he realized what a monumental task it was going to be, but I'm not surprised that he accomplished it," said Michael's dad, Patrick Carter.
A member of Boone Trails Troop 533, Michael began his badge quest about six years ago when his older brother was working toward the Eagle rank, which requires 21 merit badges. The brothers earned badges together, setting Michael on an accelerated pace.
"I was 13 or 14 and was almost an Eagle Scout," Michael, now 17, said. "When a kid gets Eagle Scout they usually stop participating in Scouts and I didn't want to do that."
So he set out to earn all the Boy Scouts' badges. He achieved Eagle rank, the highest scouting level, in 2010 when he built a reflection garden at Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service in St. Peters for his service project. Making Eagle rank, much less earning all of the Boy Scout merit badges, is no easy task, said Rodger Brisso, committee chairman of Troop 533. Only 2 percent of Boy Scouts ever reach Eagle, he said.
"Somewhere around 15 or 16 there's usually girlfriends and jobs and cars pulling at you and it's not always the coolest thing to be a Boy Scout. There's a lot of pressure that hits young adults," Brisso said.
Michael managed to stick with it, taking six years to achieve all 134 badges. The badge-earning process is intensive, requiring paperwork, documentation and a counselor for each badge attempt.
"I like to think of it as I had 134 different mentors to get me through," Michael said.
The number and types of merit badges available have evolved significantly since the BSA began in 1912. Badges in wilderness survival, wood carving and camping have been joined by welding, cinematography and nuclear science. Michael rounded out his collection by earning the entrepreneurship badge, which required him to start his own business.
"It exposes you to a ton of different types of information that allows you to be more open to new ideas," Brisso said of what earning merit badges offers a Scout.
Though he completed a 50-mile bike ride, canoed and learned to make paper from scratch for badges, Michael said the most challenging task to master was basketry.
"I broke and had to go out and remake baskets about eight times," he said.
In addition to earning all available badges, Michael also earned four commemorative badges in carpentry, path finding, signaling and tacking that were part of the BSA's 100th anniversary celebration. Though earning all merit badges requires a tremendous time commitment, it also requires a large financial one, Michael said.
"I'm very fortunate that my parents helped me out and paid and whatnot. If not for my dad, I'm not sure I would have made it. He pushed me along," Michael said.
Michael plans to attend Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla next fall to study nuclear engineering. Though he will age out of Boy Scouts at 19, he plans to stay connected to the organization and mentor younger members.
"I wouldn't be the person I am today if not for Scouts," he said.