Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rachel's Challenge

I recently had the opportunity to attend an assembly for our students called Rachel's Challenge, given by Craig Scott, whose sister Rachel was the first student killed in the Columbine shootings eleven years ago. Rachel's Challenge is an extraordinary foundation and movement devoted to teaching and inspiring students to create a permanent positive culture change in their school by starting "a chain reaction of kindness and compassion."

Ironically, in the same week that Rachel's killers were in their basement creating a video in which they claimed they were about to start a "chain reaction" of violence and hate, Rachel was turning in an essay for English class called "My Ethics: My Codes of Life," in which she wrote that she "had this theory that if one person could go out of their way to show compassion, it can start a chain reaction of the same." She asked, "How do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in?" "Test them for yourself," she wrote, "You just might start a chain reaction."

Craig Scott and his father have chosen and committed themselves to the idea that her short life will not be defined by tragedy, but instead by the kindness and compassion with which she lived her life. Her father posted a sign at her memorial that read "Rachel, your death will not be in vain." After her death, her family found an image of her hand that she had traced on the back of her dresser in which she had written, "These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people's hearts."

As a teacher and a parent and a person, it is still difficult to recount the tragic events of that day, and I cannot fathom the depths of despair that have been faced by people like Craig Scott. He was in the library where two of his friends were killed in front of him. He later led a group of students to safety, shortly before the killers returned to the library, only to learn later of the loss of his sister. Yet, from this tragedy, Craig has become a man of uncommon courage who is committed to his sister's message of kindness and compassion. It is rare that I have seen one person convince a group of 900 seventeen-year-olds to stand up, arm-in-arm, many with tears in their eyes, and sing "Lean on Me" ... three times in a row. Yet, he did it. And that message rings true.

In Craig's presentation, he challenged us in five ways. They are:

1. Choose positive influences in your life.

2. Keep a record.

3. Practice acts of kindness daily.

4. Eliminate prejudice.

5. Tell people how much you love and care for them.

Craig closed with a video montage of his sister to a song called "Hands" by Jewell. She sings:

If I could tell the world just one thing it would be - we're all OK
And not to worry 'cause worry is useless in times like these
I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear

In the end only kindness matters.

That is the truth. Happy Thanksgiving.