Starting a chain reaction

I went home for lunch on April 20, 1999. Iím not sure why I turned on the TV, but I did. And once I had, I couldnít believe the story that was splashed across every channel. Iím not sure what I was hoping to watch, but I remember vividly what I did see: the image of countless emergency vehicles and police cars, lights flashing, surrounding a Colorado high school on the suburbs of Denver.

Those images were underscored by the anxious voice of the news anchor, barely concealing her emotions, as she detailed how two teenage boys had done the unthinkable. They had gone into their school and begun shooting their classmates and teachers before turning their guns on themselves.

I sat there, in the sparsely furnished living room of the house I shared with two of my friends in Arlington,Va., with tears streaming down my face glued to the TV.

The tragic event at Columbine was nothing short of a massacre. It left 12 students and one teacher dead, 27 wounded and so many more emotionally scarred. Across the nation, we mourned for the families who had suffered such a horrendous lost. We hugged our children, our sisters and brothers, our nieces and nephews, that much tighter that night and for many nights thereafter. But other than triggering a few changes in school security, what exactly did this horrible event teach us? For many of us, the memories faded as we faced new horrors in our ever changing world.

But the family of one of those killed that day more than 10 years ago, are trying to spread a message of change inspired by the writings of their daughter, Rachel Joy Scott.

When I learned that Rachelís Challenge, the program created in memory of this remarkable young woman, was coming to Norwich, I started reading up on it. The idea behind it seemed suitably inspirational, but I wasnít really sold, I guess. And I made my way to the Norwich High School Auditorium last week, not really sure what to expect.

In short, I was blown away. I had completely underestimated the power of the message being perpetuated by Rachelís father and others who have joined this cause, this attempt to ďstart a chain reactionĒ of positive change in Rachelís name. All of it inspired by the incredible compassion and kindness of this teenage girl, and the true wisdom found in the journals and writings she left behind.

Through news clips, photographs, personal testimonies and excerpts from her writings, the presentation told the story of Rachelís life. Though small in stature, this young woman, had a big heart to be sure. She made it her mission to be kind and compassionate to those around her every day, particularly those who were picked on and ridiculed by others. She made a difference, one small act at a time, and believed she could change the world.

The message was a simple one really: donít judge others, show compassion, treat others as you would like to be treated, set goals, dare to dream, tell people how much you care about them. But carried on the wings of Rachelís memory, a girl who dreamed so big and died so tragically young, they seemed to carry so much more weight and meaning. So much so that at the conclusion of the high school presentation, the entire student body gave speaker Dave Gamache a standing ovation. And as those students filed out of the auditorium, I saw that I wasnít the only one who had responded emotionally to what they had seen and heard.

As Dave said at one point, Rachelís life may have ended, but her story, and message, lives on.

I commend the Norwich PTSA and their president, Victoria Mitchell, as well as the faculty, staff and administration at the Norwich City School District for having the foresight to bring this amazing program to the students at Norwich. Their actions might just start a chain reaction.

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