Milton students hear Columbine shooting victim’s mission of tolerance
To learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and to read Rachel Scott’s 1999 essay “My ethics, my codes of life,” visit rachelschallenge.org.
MILTON Rachel Scott wanted to change the world.
Instead, Scott was slain at age 17 by another student who shot her four times in the chest with a rifle. Scott was sitting outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., eating lunch with a friend.
One of the bullets went through Scott’s book bag, penetrating a journal that Scott used to outline a simple, yet ambitious plan—to improve the world through a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. The bullet punctuated a single line in Scott’s journal: “I won’t be labeled as average.”
Scott never got the chance to prove that.
Now, however, her family members and family friends give presentations at thousands of schools worldwide, spreading Scott’s memory as the first victim in the infamous April 20, 1999, Columbine massacre.
The group, Littleton-based nonprofit Rachel’s Challenge, takes Scott’s ambitions, as reflected in a collection of her journals and through her school writings, and uses them to craft a template for tolerance and positive change.
Wednesday at the Milton High School auditorium, Dave Gamache, a presenter with Rachel’s Challenge, showed students a video that wove pieces of Scott’s life with accounts of the shooting at Columbine.
Students watched news coverage that showed how students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed Scott and 12 other students at Columbine before killing themselves in the school library.
The shooting stands as one of the deadliest on school grounds in U.S. history. Scott’s funeral was televised nationally.
Pausing the video, Gamache asked students if they ever decided they disliked someone at first sight. Hands shot up all over the auditorium.
“If we simply choose every day to look for the best in others, we won’t have a problem with prejudice,” he said.
Gamache was echoing words from Scott’s journals and a school essay Scott had written just weeks before the Columbine shooting. In her writings, Scott, just a high school junior when she died, challenged herself and others to dream big, choose positive influences and speak with kindness.
She believed that adhering to those ideals would be a catalyst to positive changes around her.
“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. People will never know how far a little kindness can go,” Scott wrote in an essay.
Gamache wrapped Scott’s ideas around issues of school bullying, prejudice and even youth suicide.
He talked about how Scott went out of her way to show kindness to students with disabilities. He told stories about how Scott would stand down hallway bullies and then whisper encouraging words in the ears of the bullied.
Then he boiled things down further: “All she (Scott) did was treat people the way she wanted to be treated. That’s it.”
Through Rachel’s Challenge, Gamache has told Scott’s story to thousands of youths. He said he always spots the ones who get the message.
“I think it’s those kids who up until now just thought they were nice and never noticed the difference they make,” Gamache said. “It’s like they realize the difference and the impact they’ve had and can continue to have on others’ lives. You can almost see their DNA being rewritten in front of you.”
Before Gamache left Milton on Wednesday, he gave an evening presentation to the community and helped school guidance counselors set up a school club intended to put Scott’s beliefs in motion.
Michelle Kurilla, a guidance counselor at Milton High School, was stunned by the students’ response. Though most were toddlers when the Columbine shooting happened, they seemed spellbound by the presentation, she said.
“I’ve never been in an assembly where the students have sat still and sat completely quiet that long. I think they all heard it,” Kurilla said.