Derek French, a senior at the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center, was described Sunday as a leader, a friend, a scholar, an athlete and a brave young man who shows great promise.
By the end of an emotional ceremony at the Shepherd of the Valley Church, he was also described as an Eagle Scout. Troop 8 Scoutmaster Michael Klitzner conferred the rank of Eagle to French, completing a journey he started at the age of 9.
“He was always ahead of himself. He was always looking for the leadership roles,” said Derek’s mother, Lori French.
She describes her son as “stoic, humble, brave, courageous and intelligent.”
“He is a selfmade leader,” she said.
Michael Deluca, a longtime Scoutmaster, said that they knew early on that French was the real deal.
“We had someone special,” Deluca said. “You see the difference here, what the average person on the street is and what an Eagle Scout is.”
French is now the 58th Eagle Scout in Troop 8 Cranston’s history, with several others lined up in the near future. The troop now has 40 scouts, the largest class in the past 20 years.
The discipline French learned in Scouting has made him an ideal student. At Primal Athletic Training Center on Comstock Parkway, the gym where French has trained for nearly two years, owner Matt Ellis said his staff often jokes that they are “looking for more Frenchies” – the type of dedicated athlete who is looking to train seriously.
Ellis recalled the first time he met French, when the teen walked right up to him, looked him in the eye, shook his hand and introduced himself. Gym members who meet French, Ellis said, are often shocked to learn that he is so young.
“He’s one of the great ones,” Ellis said.
As a student at CACTC, French has excelled in and out of the classroom. He is part of the pre-engineering robotics program at the technical center, a member of the National Honor Society, participates in Model United Nations and was a wrestler for Cranston West. His CACTC mentor, teacher Edd Spidell, wrote him a letter of recommendation to become an Eagle Scout and echoed that support this weekend.
“He has been a role model to students in my classroom, lab and at Cranston High School West,” Spidell said. “Derek is and always has been a team player, and has always demonstrated self control and maturity beyond his years. Derek is a dedicated young man with the highest integrity.”
Spidell’s training will come in handy in the future, as French intends to complete his basic EMT training before pursuing a degree in nursing at Salve Regina University. After college, he hopes to enlist in the United States Navy.
When the time comes for French to enlist, his bravery will not likely come into question. Close friend Brendan Dillon, also a Scout in Troop 8, shared a story Sunday that demonstrates French’s quick thinking.
Boy Scouts of Rhode Island visit Camp Yawgoog every year, and each summer, camp takes on a different theme. Last year, the theme was Halloween, and Dillon volunteered to dress as a mummy inside a coffin. He got into the coffin shortly after it was spray painted, though, and did not consider the negative effect it could have on his asthma. Dillon had a severe asthma attack, and was too weak to even call attention to himself. French locked eyes on his friend, picked him up “like I was a feather” and carried him to medical personnel where Dillon was given an inhaler and taken care of.
“To me, this man saved my life,” he said.
That reaction came as no surprise to Dillon.
“When I think of what makes a great Eagle Scout, I think of Derek. I’ve never met someone quite like him,” he said, calling French a friend, and also a mentor.
Several dignitaries spoke at the celebration, congratulating French on achieving the highest honor in the Boy Scouts of America organization. Citations were sent to the event by Senator Jack Reed and Governor Lincoln Chafee as well.
“This is the whole community coming together to say we’re so proud of Derek and all he has accomplished. What an amazing young man and an incredible accomplishment,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “It says a lot about you, about your character and who you are.”
Meeting students like French is a highlight of his job, added Mayor Allan Fung.
“Our community, whether it’s Cranston, Rhode Island or wherever you wind up, they’re always in need of good leaders,” he said.
Also speaking was State Rep. Stephen Ucci (D-Johnston, Cranston), who became an Eagle Scout himself in 1987.
“What he’s done, at his age, is truly a mark of excellence. It’s something for all of us to be proud of,” Ucci said.
Less than 3 percent of Boy Scouts make it to the rank of Eagle, which can only be achieved by earning 21 merit badges, holding a leadership position for at least six months, passing through a board of review and completing a community service Eagle Scout project.
For French’s project, he took up a collection for St. Mary’s Home for Children, which offers treatment programs for boys and girls who have suffered abuse. These children are cared for in residential, educational and outpatient programs, and benefited from French’s gifts of clothes, shoes, toys and hygienic supplies.
“In a particularly moving part of the ceremony, Col. James Vartanian, one of French’s former Scoutmasters, gave his protégé the military coin he earned during his service in Afghanistan. Vartanian made the list of people French thanked, after his centennial Eagle badge had been pinned on his uniform.
“You see these people and what they become, and it inspires you to achieve that,” French said of his Eagle Scout forefathers like Vartanian.
Also on the list of people to thank was Vartanian’s late wife, Judy, whom French recalled encouraging him to follow his dreams. All of the people he met over the course of his Scouting career, he said, have prepared him to become the man he wants to be.
“The Scouting experience has been one of the highlights of my life. As I look to the future, I pray for the opportunity to do things most people would never attempt or consider starting,” French said.
He encouraged the younger Scouts in attendance to follow through, and one day become Eagles.
“No matter how hard it gets, no matter how difficult the journey is, get to this point,” he said.