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High School senior Rachel Joy Scott knew she was going to die young.
And she did, shot to death on April 20, 1999 as she sat outside on the lawn at school eating lunch with a friend – the first victim of the tragic Columbine High School massacre.
That Rachel had such a premonition came as no surprise to those who knew her, she’d often talked about how she just knew it, how she accepted it as fact.
But she also talked about how she was destined, somehow, to make an impact on the world and wrote about her vision in diaries and a class essay just weeks before her death.
Rachel lived what she believed – and dedicated her short life to the power of compassion and kindness to others.
“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same,” Rachel wrote in an ethics essay. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Rachel’s theory, presented to millions across the world through an internationally acclaimed program called Rachel’s Challenge, came to Andrew Jackson Middle School Wednesday.
All 532 students attended presentations during the day at AJMS, followed by a presentation open to the public that evening at Andrew Jackson High School, which drew more than 200 people from the community, including parents, curious adults and church youth groups.
The school presented the program with financial help from the John T. Stevens Foundation of Kershaw.
AJMS Assistant Principal Daryl Hinson and teacher Donna Morrow organized the event and said they were moved by the program earlier this year during a viewing in Charlotte.
The program fits in perfect with AJMS’s anti-bullying efforts, they said.
“I think when you look at a young girl like Rachel who was inspired to do good at such a young age, its a very powerful message,” Hinson said. “Hopefully we can get that message across to the students at our school.”
At the heart of Rachel’s story are the values she believed in and lived by, values presented as five “challenges.”
Boiled down to their essence, Rachel’s challenges are simple to remember, life-changing to enact:
• “Eliminate prejudice” by looking for the best in others;
• “Dare to dream,” set goals, write them down and keep a journal;
• “Choose your influences,” input determines output;
• “Kind words,” small acts of kindness make a huge impact; and
• “Start a chain reaction” with family and friends, tell them you love them and you’re thinking of them.
Rachel’s Challenge presenter Matt Salnick challenged students to follow Rachel’s example and be kind to everyone. After all, he said, you never know what your fellow classmates are experiencing in their personal lives.
“Right now there are students who are going through things at home they won’t ever talk about, and a simple smile can make a difference,” Salnick said.
“See, in life, we often look for the big things that will make a difference,” he said. “But in doing so, we overlook the little things that can make a huge difference.”
AJMS eighth-grader Elizabeth Scott said the presentation definitely made an impression on her and her peers; you could see it on their faces.
“It hit me hard, I was bawling, a lot of people were bawling,” Elizabeth said. “I mean, there were boys crying, even some of the tougher kids you’d never think would cry, they were crying.
“It made people think and it hit them hard,” she said.
Elizabeth said she was so moved by the story that she invited her mom and dad, Jonathan and Audra Scott, to attend the evening showing held in the Andrew Jackson High School gymnasium.
Jonathan Scott said he believed the presentation had a message that applies to adults as much as children.
“Adults, we try to tell children to ‘Do things this way, treat people this way,’ but in our lives, at our workplaces, we don’t always set a very good example,” Scott said. “I really wish more people would have been here to hear it, they missed out on a powerful message.”
Morrow said after the day session, approximately 100 students met to form a club called “Friends of Rachel” dedicated to spreading – and practicing – the Rachel’s Challenge message.
“They were selected as a diverse group so they could go back to their peer groups, tell about the Friends of Rachel club and keep the momentum going,” Morrow said. “We hope all students are going to make a difference, but these students are committed to making a special effort to reach out to their community,” she said.
Hinson said he hopes the program showed students how easy it is to make a difference.
“We hope they will direct that kindness not only to the bullies, but to all students, including special needs children, the new kids and kids who are being bullied,” Hinson said.
“We want our students to see that you don’t have to make a big deal out of it, just be nice,” he said. “You might make an impact on someone that will affect them for years to come.”
Like her friend Elizabeth, AJMS eighth-grader Megan Phillips said she believes Rachel’s message affected the whole school and has faith in its success.
“I think it changed our school a lot,” Megan said. “I think when we walk in the doors tomorrow, it’ll be a different place.”
For details on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.
Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151