By the time he hit 81, Ben Franklin had set up America’s first lending library, made a shocking discovery about electricity, helped draft the U.S. constitution, invented bifocals and kite-surfed across a Boston pond using a string kite and a paddleboard he had made to teach swimming.
More than 200 years later, it’s still hard to believe any one person could do such a grab-bag of amazing things, but Franklin had a secret.
Starting at age 20, he kept a scorecard listing 13 virtues he wanted to achieve in life – everything from justice to keeping clean – and tracked his progress on one virtue per week.
Max Musing has a long way to go before he can outdo Franklin, but he does have a head start.
The Grade 11 Danforth Collegiate student is still a few years shy of 20, and already plays drums in a band, volunteers with Scouts and at Toronto General Hospital, placed second in a city-wide rowing championship and played a felt-hatted foot soldier in a giant War of 1812 reenactment at Fort George.
Besides the fun of trying a lot of new and worthwhile things, Musing is inspired by The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
Open to youth ages 14 to 25, the award goes to those who master three challenges – community service, learning a new skill, athletic fitness – and also go on an adventurous journey.
Like Franklin, everyone competing for the award keeps a notebook where they set goals and track how they’re doing.
Musing was among 160 Ontario youth to be awarded a silver-level Duke of Edinburgh award this October, and he’s now working on his gold.
Musing says he got into the award after watching his older sister Melissa do it first.
“The award really got her to go camping,” he said, noting that Melissa was more of a Great Indoors-type before she and her dad camped on a multi-day cycling and canoe trip along Georgian Bay.
For his part, Max can already check off a week-long canoe trek through Algonquin Park for his gold – something he did with 15 others in the program.
“I hadn’t portaged before, but we learned,” he said.
It was for his silver adventure that last year Musing joined a three-day hike which finished in a large-scale reenactment of the Battle of Fort George.
“It was pretty crazy,” he said. Thousands of Scouts from the U.S. and Canada dressed in period uniforms to replay the 200th anniversary of the 1813 battle when U.S. stormed the fort and launched a full-scale invasion into what is now Canada. Armed with cap guns, the troops were divided into ranks where higher-ups gave realistic orders.
“Being part of it, you really learn a lot of what it was like to be a soldier,” Musing said.
“It was a fun way to learn.”
For his silver skill, Musing listed drumming – he started years ago and now plays in a three-piece called The Other Guys.
Besides school events at Danforth Collegiate, the band played a gig at the Dora Keogh Pub, just two doors down from the Danforth Music Hall, where they covered Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode and Led Zeppelin’s D’yer Mak’er.
Helping the band’s timing is the fact that one of Musing’s bandmates also rows with him on a four-man team at Bayside Rowing.
Musing also took piano lessons, and picked up a bit of music theory on the way. But for drums he says he learns mostly by listening to other drummers and playing a lot.
“I practise a lot with my hands, just tapping on the bus or something,” he said.
For community service, Musing put in full-time, 40-hour weeks as a Toronto General Hospital volunteer last summer, where he sorted medications alongside his pharmacist mom in the hospital pharmacy.
A long-time Scout who graduated from Cubs to Scouts to Venturers, Musing volunteers at a weekly Scouts group held at Balmy Beach School.
Whether for traditional Scout skills like tying knots and swinging axes or more contemporary ones, such as photography, Musing is a great mentor – he earned all 50 Scout badges when he was younger.
Asked what he thought was a funny question, Musing laughed and said, “No, I don’t think there’s a badge for having them all.”
Musing’s next skill might be something he picks up at Danforth Collegiate.
Between the school’s engineering courses and the Metro Toronto science fair, he and other students thinking about engineering as a career get several chances to actually make things that test their ideas.
“We’ve built things like hovercrafts, elastic-powered cars, hot-air balloons even,” he said.
In one class, Musing just finished building a mini roller coaster. Teams compete to build the longest-lasting run for a computer mouse ball, with extra points awarded for length, loops, hills and turns, and a little calculus to make it all work.
Two years ago, Musing wrote a computer simulation that tests what sort of planets and other objects, such as asteroids, might actually get caught up in the Sun’s orbit if they fly too close.
“It was a really small number of objects that actually went into orbit – I was surprised,” he said.
With most of the pages in his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award book now full, Musing says he is looking forward to coming up with final goals for his gold award.
It’s something he recommends for anyone under 25 looking for a challenge.
“It’s good just to get started with it,” no matter how old you are.”