The ice and bitter cold temperatures didn’t stop a slew of students and parents from attending the “Rachel’s Challenge” presentation at Exeter-West Greenwich Senior High School last Thursday night. The third presentation of the day featured speaker Dave Gamache, who has traveled from school to school spreading the message of “Rachel’s Challenge” for the past four years.The presentation was made possible through the efforts of the Domestic Violence Research Center and the Friendship Fund.
“This is a very, very special day,” E-WG Superintendent Thomas Geismar told the packed auditorium. “Rachel’s Challenge, in my opinion, is not just about the kids, it’s about all of us – it’s about grownups, too. It’s about how we’re going to treat each other, how we behave toward each other and how we each do our bit to make the world a better place.”
Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first victim of the April 20, 1999 Columbine High School shootings, was honored in an hour-long presentation which featured a compelling essay written shortly before her death.
“My Ethics and My Code of Life,” discovered one week after she died, challenged readers to start a “chain reaction” of kindness and compassion towards others. Her theory was simple: if one person will go out of their way to show kindness and compassion, it would start a chain reaction of the same.
“I see it as a gift more than a story, and it’s my honor to be able to give that gift to you,” Gamache said. “I’m here to honor the way she chose to live, and the impact her life continues to have and the legacy she left behind. I think as you hear her story, you’re going to realize you may have a lot more power inside of you than you ever imagined to impact other people’s lives every day.”
The compelling presentation video not only featured Rachel’s life and how she chose to live it but also the lives of the people she touched, which included her family and friends.
“She started a chain reaction of love and was kind to others and because of that, she’s changed the world,” Rachel’s brother Craig said in the presentation video.
Rachel challenged readers to look for the best in others, to dare to dream, to choose positive influences, to choose kind words, and to start a chain reaction.
“Today we challenge the students and faculty to only look for the best, and if the best is different, to celebrate those differences, because that’s what makes us great,” Gamache said.
One of the biggest influences on Rachel was Anne Frank, whose diary was found on Rachel’s bedside table the day she died. Incredibly, Rachel had a premonition that she would die young, as Anne Frank did, but that her life would impact the world, just as Anne Frank’s life did.
“Both of them put a big emphasis on kindess,” Rachel’s older sister said in the video. “Anne Frank said, ‘You can always give something, even if it’s only kindness,’ and Rachel said, ‘People will never know how far a little kindess can go.’ Anne Frank and Rachel both set high goals and ideals for their lives.” Gamache stated that both Anne Frank and Rachel had world-changing dreams that they wanted to accomplish.
“Anne wrote, ‘It’s a wonder I haven’t abandonded all my ideals; they seem so absurd and impractical,’ and Rachel wrote, ‘My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached.’” Gamache went on to say that over the past two school years, 301 students have been impacted in a special way after a speaker from Rachel’s Challenge left their school.
“They sent an email saying, ‘When your speaker showed up today I was planning on killing myself. But I found hope in Rachel’s story and I made some new friends today, and I’m going to stick around.’
“Her death has not been in vain.”
Both parents and students alike were profoundly affected by the presentation. Even Gamache at times had tears in his eyes as he spoke.
“I think every school should see this,” said parent Pat Drum.
Renee Warila’s daughter, who had been to an earlier presentation in the school day, looked up the Rachel’s Challenge Facebook page.
“She said, ‘Mom, we gotta go,’” Warila said.
“It was very moving; a lot of my friends were crying,” student Rayna Gagnon said.
“I thought it was really moving,” said student Kelsey Gilligan. “It definitely makes me think twice about everything and what I would say.”
“This event has brought our community together on every level,” said a teary-eyed school counselor Catherine Murray. “Everyone has been touched.”
For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org .