WALLACE, Va. — Everyone’s eyes closed in meditative thought.
And when they reopened, it seemed like the soul of Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year-old girl who attended Columbine High School during its infamous mass shooting, had suddenly filled the gymnasium of Wallace Middle School, as piercing rays of morning sunlight streamed through the windows.
Hundreds of middle school students had packed the gymnasium at Wallace on Oct. 3, perhaps expecting to hear a funny, upbeat message as summer lingered into autumn.
But “Rachel’s Challenge” was none of that — expect for being upbeat, in the end.
The assembly’s takeaway: Be kind to others, and show acts of kindness that could cause a chain reaction throughout the world.
It was a poignant message delivered by a Wisconsin public speaker named Matt, who simply kept his presence on a first-name basis.
The real star, you see, was actually a young lady who died more than 20 years ago.
Rachel Joy Scott was the first shooting victim at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, in Columbine, Colorado, where 12 students and one teacher were killed.
When Rachel died, she was only 17 — just a bit older than the students at Wallace.
Still, the students got to know Rachel through her diaries, presented in readings and on video at “Rachel’s Challenge,” a traveling program that has been presented for millions of students.
Everyone heard how Rachel had premonitions that she would die early — yet still change the world.
That, she is still doing.
“Rachel’s Challenge” is a nonprofit program that visits schools, like Wallace in Washington County, with a message that small acts of kindness and compassion can cause a ripple effect in society and cause others to be kinder and gentler.
Especially in the muddled, troubled and confusing middle school years.
Here, you’re not quite a kid anymore.
And, yet, you’re hardly old enough to do much more than see a PG-13 movie without a parent.
But you can befriend the new kid in town. You can speak politely. And you don’t need to be a bully.
“I had my ups and downs. I fell a few times,” Rachel wrote in one of her journals. “But I did not give up. Don’t give up.”
Rachel is gone. But her lessons for others live on.
And so does her compassion.
“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer,” Rachel wrote in a journal. “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.”