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From Columbine to Goliad: Rachel's Challenge promotes kindness

By KBell
Oct. 1, 2011 at 5:01 a.m.

Stephanie Valderrama, left, and Emily Podschelne sign a banner declaring "I accept Rachel's Challenge." Rachel's Challenge is in memory of the first victim in the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School. The senior girls said Rachel's compassion and kindness reminded them of their friend, April Villarreal, who died in a car wreck in May.

Displayed in front of Goliad High School students was the colorful diary of a teenage girl, canvassed in flower graffiti and calligraphic variations of the name "Rachel Joy Scott."

On the cover of the last diary Rachel would write, the phrase, "I won't be labeled as average" is punctuated by a bullet hole.

Rachel, only 17 years old, was the first victim in the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, which killed 13 and wounded 24.

More than a decade after her death, Rachel's diaries made it to Goliad, where middle and high school students were posed with Rachel's Challenge.

Rachel's Challenge is a worldwide program that combines video footage and testimony from the tragedy in Columbine with Rachel's writings about compassion and kindness.

"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," Rachel wrote.

Rachel's convictions, as indicated in her six diaries and testimonies from those who knew her, combined big dreams with even the smallest acts of kindness.

On the back of a dresser, Rachel had traced her hands and wrote, "These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will some day touch millions of people's hearts."

In Goliad, students who never knew Rachel were in tears after the presentation. They didn't know the 17-year-old who died in Columbine, but they knew a 17-year-old who died near Goliad.

Seniors Emily Podschelne and Stephanie Valderrama said the brief introduction to Rachel reminded them of their friend, April Villarreal, who died in a car accident in May.

"She was so kind to everyone. She didn't single people out," Emily said. "She was very open and outspoken. There's not a single person here in Goliad who didn't talk to her."

The girls lamented that death often serves as a reminder of how to live.

"It shouldn't take something happening for us to realize ... how to treat each other," Emily said.

Stephanie was inspired in particular by one of Rachel's five challenges, which encouraged students to dream big, write goals and keep a journal.

She also said she hoped the dramatic and emotional presentation hit home with her classmates.

"I just hope it's a big wake-up call. You hear all the time, be kind, be nice, but you never really see the impact that it can have on others," Stephanie said.

Kristi Krings, who presented Rachel's Challenge to Goliad students, said in the many years she's taken Rachel's Challenge on the road, she's seen jocks cry and bullies apologize.

"I've seen leaders who were negative leaders ... turn into positive leaders in school," she said. "I've seen compassion and kindness become cool."

After the hourlong presentation, students flocked to sign their names to a banner declaring, "I accept Rachel's Challenge."

They were left with their promise to carry on Rachel's legacy, fortified by Rachel's words.

"Don't let your character change color with your environment. Find out who you are, and let it stay its true color."



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