The angelic 17-year-old face stared down at the assembled Van Alstyne Middle School students on this Fall Monday, an image frozen in time that will live on forever. And telling her story was a former college and pro quarterback who found his life permanently changed by her memory.
Cody Hodges, with sponsorship from the VAMS PTA, brought Rachel’s Challenge to the school in the memory of Rachel Scott. She was the first person killed in the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999 in which two high school students carried out a massive armed attack on the school and killed 12 students and one teacher. Rachel, who was sitting outside eating lunch when the two killers approached, was shot and killed.
Rachel’s Challenge is based on her life and writings, words wise beyond their years. In the writings, viewed after her death, Rachel talked of the need to dream big, touching millions of lives and counted Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among her heroes. After her death, students came forward to tell of Scott befriending them at lunch when no one else would and of standing up for them against bullying, the lone voice to stand up and be heard. Scott urged others to start a chain reaction of kindness, and she was true to her writings.
Hodges presented Rachel’s Challenge to the students and gave them five challenges: 1) Look for the best in others; 2) Dream big; 3) Choose positive influences; 4) Speak with kindness; 5) Start your own chain reaction.
Hodges spoke to the students about not hanging out with people who were bad influences in their lives and urged them to write goals and even keep a journal as Scott did. Part of Rachel’s Challenge is standing up and defending those students who can’t do so for themselves, among them three groups: special needs students, new students and students being picked on. The message throughout was clear: treat others as you would like to be treated.
“You don’t have to be average,” Hodges said. “But we have to choose to be great.”
Hodges has taken these words to heart. Hodges, a former Texas Tech and Tennessee Titans quarterback who was in high school in Hereford when Columbine was attacked, said his life was changed when he heard Scott’s father Darrell speak. He now tours the world, living out of a suitcase while speaking on behalf of Scott and Rachel’s Challenge. He has done this since 2007 for one reason: “Just knowing that one kind girl could make a difference.”
In her senior english paper, found under her mattress after her death, Scott wrote the words, “I’m going to have an impact on the world.”
It is clear from Monday’s program that she did.
To find out more about Rachel’s Challenge visit rachelschallenge.org.