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NEW BREMEN — At 13-years-old, Rachel Scott knew she would affect the lives of others, tracing her hands on the back of her dresser and writing, “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will some day touch millions of people’s hearts.”
Four years later, on April 20, 1999, Rachel was the first of 13 people killed at Columbine High School.
“What happened on that day at Columbine High School remains one of the worst tragedies in recent American history,” Rachel’s Challenge Program Presenter Adam Northam said Monday morning in a school assembly at New Bremen Middle School after students and staff viewed a brief video about the Columbine shootings. “We’ve showed you a little bit about what happened because it is a part of history. It’s not something that should be forgotten about or ignored or swept under the rug. It’s not something to be hidden.”
Since her death, Rachel’s writing, philosophies and acts of kindness have been shared with millions, in addition to a five-part challenge to others, a chain reaction of kindness. Rachel’s Challenge, Northam noted, is not focused on Rachel’s death in Columbine.
“The tragedy of Columbine is not the purpose for Rachel’s Challenge,” he said. “That’s not why we travel around the world sharing these stories. We’re not going to focus on the negatives ... We’re not even here to talk about how Rachel died. That’s not what Rachel would want. We’re not here to talk about how she died, we’re here to talk about how she lived.”
Rachel’s Challenge, he said, is a series of five challenges that will allow those who accept the challenge to make the world a better place.
“I’m going to leave you with five challenges — challenges that Rachel applied to her life,” Northam said. “She wrote them down and she left them for the rest of us. Challenges that, if you choose to accept, you’ll have the same power that Rachel had to be able to walk into a room just like this one and make it better.”
The first challenge is to eliminate prejudice.
“Prejudice simply means to prejudge other people,” Northam said, noting that prejudice includes prejudging others because of their race, ethnicity, clothes they wear, cars they drive or the house they live in, among others. “The reality is every single one of us has prejudged somebody before.”
He noted that Rachel struggled with prejudice as well and came up with a formula to keep herself from prejudging others.
“Rachel said if you just look for the best in others, then you can eliminate prejudice,” Northam said, noting that it can be difficult because people tend to judge others based on a first impression. “Rachel understood that it is not fair to judge someone based on a first impression, and she also understood that every single person has a light, has something good — we just need to take the time to look for it in each other.”
The second challenge is to accomplish dreams.
“The second challenge for you guys this morning is a three-step process to accomplishing your dreams, and the first step is to dream big,” Northam said, noting dreaming big is important. “There are a lot of good things happening all over the world, but there is one scary trend that we see happening. We see way too many people, of all ages, just giving up. There are way too many people that have become very quick to give up on their dreams.”
The second step to accomplishing dreams, Northam said, is to write them down.
“When you write something down, it transforms it from something easily forgotten that’s floating around in your head into something real, something practical, something that you can look at every single day to remind you and to motivate you to pursue that goal or dream,” he said, noting the third step, keeping a journal.
The third challenge in Rachel’s Challenge is to choose positive influences.
“The influences that we choose for our lives affect us,” Northam said. “The people, the things, the movies, the music we listen to affect us. They affect our mindset and our choices.”
He noted that people as individuals control what influences them.
“If you’re somebody that wants to be a positive influence, if you’re somebody that wants to make a positive difference, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to choose positive influences for yourself,” he said.
The fourth challenge is to speak with kindness.
“If you were to sit down with Rachel, she would tell you that the most important tool that you have to when it comes to making a difference is your communication,” Northam said. “We take words for granted more than anything else. So, the fourth challenge is to stop taking our words for granted and to start speaking with kindness.”
He noted speaking with kindness is a choice.
“So often we come to school and we choose to insult, we choose to start rumors, we choose to gossip,” he said. “This challenge is to choose to do the opposite.”
Northam said Rachel strived to be a good example for others.
“She knew that there were lots of people out there that would want to do the same thing, she just thought she could be a good example,” he said. “Her goal was to be an example for anyone else that wanted to change the world.”
He noted that the acts of kindness Rachel did were all things that anyone could do.
“Rachel is not a superhero,” he said. “She never did anything that is impossible for the rest of us to do. She never even did anything that the world would consider a big deal. What set Rachel apart was that she knew the power of the little things. She didn’t give up on them, no matter how difficult they got.”
The final challenge in Rachel’s Challenge, Northam said, is to start the chain reaction.
“Within the next three days, I’d like you to go to those people (that you love), and I want you to tell them how much you love them, how much they mean to you, how much you care about them,” he said. “Speak from the heart. One day, if you’re not around, it’ll be a conversation that they’ll never forget. One day, if they’re not around, I promise you, you won’t regret it.”
The chain reaction, he noted, starts with those nearby.
“Whatever your chain reaction is going to be, it’s most likely going to start with those people that you were thinking of,” he said.
Countless students accepted Rachel’s Challenge Monday, signifying their commitment by raising their hand. Students will have the opportunity to sign the Rachel’s Challenge banner to remind them of the commitment they made.
“New Bremen community, welcome to Rachel’s Challenge,” Northam said. “I cannot wait to see where this chain reaction is going to take you guys and I know it’s going to be amazing.”
For more information about Rachel’s Challenge, visit RachelsChallenge.org.