GEORGETOWN – Compassionate links that rose from one of the worst school shootings in America’s history triggered a chain reaction last week at Sussex Tech High School.
And a new friendship was born.
Following a moving presentation of Rachel’s Challenge, many Sussex Tech students signed the anti-bullying banner, pledging to help make the world a better, more compassionate place through the hopes, dreams and inspirational writings of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott – the first victim of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
“Rachel was not perfect,” said motivational speaker Jimmy “JB” Braden, who has been with Rachel’s Challenge for about four years. “She was a teenager who treated others like she would want to be treated.”
One of 12 students who died on April 20, 1999 along with one teacher and the two student gunmen who took their own lives, Rachel Scott has been the subject of several books and her journals and writings serve as inspiration for Rachel’s Challenge – a worldwide school outreach initiative supporting anti-bullying and prevention of teen violence.
From two school assembly presentations and another open to the public arose the creation of a Friends of Rachel (FOR) Club at Sussex Tech, through which students practice what they learned in the assemblies to foster a permanent campus culture of kindness and compassion.
“I think it will help us out a lot because everybody … is experiencing hardships in their life. Rachel, she helped bring a lot of people together,” said Sussex Tech freshman Kierstyn Woody of Seaford.
Sophomore Daisy LeGates, a member of Sussex Tech’s Army Junior ROTC, was moved as well.
“I think we will be influenced by it. There are lessons to be learned from it,” Daisy said. “What I’m going to take out of it is that I’m going to really introduce this into my life and others.”
Launched by Rachel’s dad and stepmom, Darrell and Sandy Scott, Rachel’s Challenge challenges students to eliminate prejudice/look for the best in others; dream big; choose positive influences; speak with kindness; and start your own “chain reaction.”
In the first of two student presentations in the gymnasium, many Sussex Tech freshmen and sophomores raised their hands, conceding that they had at some time in their lives prejudged other people.
“(Rachel) said if you will look for the best in others you won’t have a problem with prejudice. If you do that, you will eliminate prejudice,” said Mr. Braden. “A little act of kindness and a smile can make a big difference.”
In life, Rachel befriended others, including new students and those with special needs sometimes ignored, teased or bullied by others. She wrote about a world where she envisioned people looking for the good in others.
In death, Rachel’s hopes live on through her journal, prophetic writings – including her two-page “My Ethics: My Code of Life” written about a month before her death – and drawings.
“These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts,” she wrote in alongside a tracing of her hands.
Rachel, who died on Adolph Hitler’s birthday, chose as a role model Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who kept a now famous diary before she was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp where she died in 1945 at age 15.
“Anne Frank said, “I want to go on living even after my death.’ And Rachel said, “I’m going to have an impact on the world,’” said Mr. Braden.
One of Rachel’s goals was to start a chain reaction of kindness that would ripple around the world.
“Today, students in Arizona and Australia … New York to new Zealand have all heard Rachel’s challenge and accepted the challenge,” Mr. Braden said.
“Actually, it really touched my heart because it is inspiring to know that there is another person in this world who has the same views as me,” said Kierstyn. “I see how she feels. I understand, and I think that we can all follow in her footsteps to make the world a better place for us.”
Coincidentally, the Oct. 2 Rachel’s Challenge programs at Sussex Tech were held the day that state of Delaware launched a new anti-bullying web site – www.deletebullying.org – with information/resources for students, educators and parents designed to reduce bullying in schools.