Chain reaction of compassion

March 29, 2011

By Tim Pfarr

First Columbine shooting victim’s message of kindness lives on

Darrell Scott asks Liberty High School students at an assembly March 8 to raise a hand if they lost a loved one recently. By Tim Pfarr

One day in a busy high school lunchroom, a new student sat down at an almost full table. Those at the table rudely cleared out as the new girl sat, prompting Rachel Scott — who sat at a different table — to approach and join the new student for lunch.

That was one of the many ways Rachel reached out to others with compassion and kindness. She challenged others to do the same and surprise themselves with the results, which could include a chain reaction of compassion, she said.

When she was 17, Rachel was killed in the April 1999 Columbine High School shootings near Littleton, Colo. She was the first to be shot that day, and although her death was untimely, her message of kindness lives on.

This message graced the students at Liberty High School March 8, when Rachel’s father, Darrell Scott, visited the school for an assembly.

For an hour, Scott — who founded the nonprofit organization Rachel’s Challenge — told students, teachers and visitors about who his daughter was, what she believed in and how she impacted the lives of those around her.

Scott also read excerpts from Rachel’s journals, showed photos of his family and screened videos containing interviews and footage from the day of the shootings.

Rachel had been shot while eating lunch in the grass outside the school. She had a journal in her backpack at the time, and a bullet hole pierced her words.

That and other stories brought tears to attendees’ eyes.

“It was above my expectations,” said Chris Turner, a senior. “I didn’t think it was going to be as emotional as it was.”

However, the assembly focused more on Rachel’s life than her death, and Scott asked Liberty students to partake in her challenge of compassion.

As part of the challenge, he asked them to look for the best in others, dream big, write goals, keep a journal, choose positive influences and use kind words.

“Your words can heal and your words can hurt,” Scott said. “Let them be words of healing, not hurt.”

For the final part of the challenge, he asked students to tell seven to 10 of their closest loved ones how much they mean to them. He said to do that sometime in the following three days.

He asked students to raise their hands if they wanted to participate, and hundreds of arms shot into the air throughout the gym.

Students treated Scott to a standing ovation after the assembly, and many took the opportunity to shake hands with or hug the man who lost his daughter almost 12 years ago.

“They’re a great group of students,” Scott said. “I know I connected with them.”

Liberty was the only school Scott will visit on the west side of the Rocky Mountains this year. Camera crews from KING-5 News — with whom the organization had partnered — were on hand to tape the presentation, interview students after the assembly and gather footage for an upcoming television special about the nonprofit.

Liberty Associated Student Body Activity Coordinator and Dean of Students Michelle Munson worked with representatives from Rachel’s Challenge for several months to bring one of its many speakers to the school.

“I just wanted to strengthen the Liberty community,” she said.

She hoped to have a speaker attend the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. assembly in January, but it fell through, she said. Weeks later, she received a call from Rachel’s Challenge representatives who told her Scott wanted to personally speak at the school and bring camera crews with him.

“It was a chain reaction on some level,” Munson said. “I thought, ‘That just amped it up a notch.’ I knew it would be powerful.”

She said she was moved by the presentation, and that a presentation from such an influential speaker is sure to help students understand that they can make a difference.

Liberty ASB President Lauren Bay and Vice President Jordan Thompson said Scott’s presentation was incredibly moving. Thompson said he hopes to work with Rachel’s Challenge at some point in the future, and Bay said she expects the message of compassion to have lasting effects on the student body.

“I think it’s going to keep going at Liberty,” she said.

The school held meetings March 29 during lunch, during which students brought their lunches with them into the auditorium to discuss their feelings about and reactions to the March 8 assembly.

On the Web

Learn more about Rachel Scott and her message at www.rachelschallenge.org.

Tim Pfarr: 392-6434, ext. 239, or newcas@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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