Cambridge-Isanti High School students accept ‘Rachel’s Challenge’

By Elizabeth Sias

“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.”

Students sign the “I Accept Rachel’s Challenge” banner after the program Thursday at Cambridge-Isanti High School. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

These are the words Rachel Scott wrote in an essay just weeks before her death. She was the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999. Her acts of kindness and compassion coupled with the contents of her six diaries have become the foundation for what some say is one of the most life-changing school programs in America.

Powerful video and audio footage of Rachel’s life and the Columbine tragedy held Cambridge-Isanti High School students spell-bound during a school presentation Thursday, Sept. 22, that motivated them to make positive changes in the way they treat others.

Eliminate prejudice by looking for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start a chain reaction were the challenges students accepted following the assembly in the Performing Arts Center at the high school.

In a letter to her cousin, Rachel wrote, “Don’t let your character change color with your environment. Find out who you are and let it stay its true color.”

“The letter was about peer pressure; it was about not letting what others say affect who you are as a person, not letting what others say make you do things you know you shouldn’t, or keep you from doing what you know you should,” presenter Joseph Manning said. Manning is a national competitor in Irish dancing and was ranked 5th in the world. He was a neighbor to the Scott family and spent time with Rachel when they were very young.

Rachel was an aspiring writer and actress. She always kept a positive attitude and followed her dreams, fulling believing she would someday make an impact on the world.

“I had my ups and downs, and I fell a few times, but I did not give up. Never give up…,” she wrote in her diary.

Rachel had a habit of writing in unusual places throughout her life. In a photograph taken of the back of Rachel’s old dresser, she traced her hands and wrote, “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will some day touch millions of people’s hearts.” And she did just that.

A few weeks after the shooting Darrell Scott, Rachel’s father, spoke to a Congressional House Judiciary Committee regarding issues of school violence. Shortly afterward he founded Rachel’s Challenge, a nonprofit bullying and violence abatement program.

More than 1.5 million students annually experience Rachel’s Challenge and have the opportunity to accept the challenges, modeled after Rachel’s life and writings. The universal message of kindness and compassion told by her story has been heard by students in several countries.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer,” Rachel wrote.

Rachel Joy Scott

Rachel always thought she would die young and accepted that fate. One of the last things Rachel wrote in her diary was a sad poem about death, going against her usual happy nature. In it, she wrote how her death would not be a suicide, but a homicide.

Thirteen people died in the Columbine shooting. On the last page of Rachel’s diary was a drawing of a girl’s eyes with 13 falling teardrops. On their way down, the tears turned into blood, causing the growth of a beautiful rose.

“My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

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