Students Challenged

Students Challenged

On the morning of April 20, 1999, Craig Scott slammed the door on his older sister, Rachel Joy Scott, as he exited the family car to go to school. That was the last time Rachel and Craig would ride to school together and her last day at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Rachel was one of the 13 killed by student gunman Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who then killed themselves.

"I miss my sister," Scott said. "Life is short and life is precious. It had to take a tragedy for me to learn that. Rachel actually changed me."

ELEVATION, an eight-person, inspirational Virginia rock band, begins to play as parents and students file in to the Capital Community Church in Ashburn on Friday night for Rachel’s Challenge, a presentation on the Columbine shootings and one victim’s message of acts of kindness. The program was presented by Loudoun Community Coalitions.

The band played popular songs by Maroon 5, Switchfoot and U2. They also played original songs.

"Don’t close your eyes. This is your life. You’re who you want to be. Don’t close your eyes. This is your life. Are you who you want to be," the band sang.

A few audience members clapped along to the beat of the poignant lyrics.

"The kindness from you might have saved his life," they sang. "Heroes are made when you make a choice."

Moments later, Scott took the stage. He played with the mouse on his laptop computer, and soon, a picture of Rachel appeared on the flat-screen television overhead.

"Rachel understood one word really well," he said. "Compassion."

SCOTT TRAVELS to schools around the globe spreading his sister’s message of kindness through the program, Rachel’s Challenge. The two-hour program walks audience members through the life of Rachel Joy Scott, up to the worst school shooting in U.S. history, and her effect on the world thereafter.

Weeks before the Columbine shootings, Rachel wrote an essay titled, "My ethics, my codes of life." The essay challenges her reader to step out in compassion, talk to people and lend a hand.

"Her theory was, if one person can step out, they will form a chain reaction," Scott said. "She challenged her readers twice. ‘You may just start a chain reaction,’ she said."

Rachel’s Challenge is based on this essay and six diaries.

"Don’t let your character change color with your environment," Rachel wrote in her essay. "Find out who you are and let it stay its true color."

After he shared some of her writings, Scott played an intense Power Point presentation for the audience. The presentation was a compilation of pictures and home video of Rachel and her family, from 1981 to 1999.

"I’m going to be an actress," Rachel said in a home video.

"Not," Scott replied.

Snapshots of the outgoing teenage girl turned into CNN coverage of the Columbine High School shootings.

He starred at the computer screen.

"It was the worst day of my life, but it was also a very meaningful day," Scott said.

SCOTT WAS in the school library that day, where 10 students were killed and more than 20 wounded. He witnessed two of his friends, Isaiah Shoels and Matthew Kechter, murdered next to him.

"I was in complete shock and complete fear. I felt like my heart was going to stop beating," he said. "The only thing I knew what to do was pray."

Scott was the first student to get up and lead students out of the school.

"I just got up and started yelling, ‘Come on, come on. My ears were ringing," he said.

Later that day, he discovered that his sister was the first of 13 people to be killed, while writing in her journal on the grass.

"I was so mad. I was so angry and full of hate," he said. "I started becoming more like them when I was holding on to that anger."

He advised the audience to let go of any hate in their hearts.

"Forgiveness is like setting a prisoner free," he said. "Holding on to that hate was keeping me prisoner. So I had to let it go."

At the end of the two-hour presentation, Scott challenged the audience to do two things.

"Tell three people in your life that you love them and appreciate them," he said. "I wish so bad that I could go back and do that with Rachel, but I can’t."

He also challenged the audience to "find three people who need a touch of kindness in their life. Form a chain reaction," he said.

Scott concluded the celebration of his sister’s life with photos of Rachel, as a baby and in school plays.

"I believe my sister is a person who has changed the world. You never know how far a little kindness will go for some people," Scott said.

Elevation took the stage and sang, "Everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s going out tonight … Don’t believe the lie. Don’t buy in to what they tell you. It’ll only make you cry … I’ll be there and I have to tell you."

SEVERAL STUDENTS were moved by Scott’s presentation.

"Craig was at our school today," said Alyson Pelkey, a Loudoun Valley High School sophomore from Purcellville. "I came tonight because I wanted to hear more. The assembly taught me I can make a difference in the world. I think it changed things for lots of people."

The presentation made Pelkey and fellow classmates realize the effects they have on their peers, and the importance of acts of kindness.

"He’s spreading a great message," she said. "I talked to a few people after the assembly. They were like, ‘Wow.’"

"I got to meet a lot of really great teens today," Scott said.

Students waited in line to talk to Scott after the presentation.

"I will tell all of my friends about the challenge," said 11-year-old Taylor Martin of Farmwell Station Middle School.

Scott has been a part of Rachel’s Challenge on and off for five years.

"I want to make an impact," he said. "I want to impact students’ lives."

For more information, visit www.rachelschallenge