Rachel’s Choice Delivers Powerful Message

Craig Scott on stage at Northside with a family photo showing (L-R) younger brother Michael, Rachel and himself from happier days.

by Gene Marrano

Craig Scott told the story with humor, with poignancy, a sense of deep respect and obvious love for his late sister, at the regional YADAPP conference last Saturday. The YADAPP (Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Project) event, geared towards Roanoke County middle school students, presented a series of workshops and a battle of the bands, with the theme of preventing or avoiding abusive behaviors: drinking, drugging and bullying, at Northside High School.

“We’ve got people from as far away as Martinsville and Tazewell,” said Roanoke County Prevention Council coordinator Nancy Hans. The Council, the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control and RAYSAC (Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition) co-sponsored the regional conference.

The highlight of the program was the keynote address by Craig Scott, who on April 20,1999 was a student at Columbine High School in Colorado, when two high school gunmen from the same school killed 13 of Scott’s classmates. He was in the same room where ten were shot down and had blood spattered on him. Two of his close friends died that day. Twenty seven others were wounded.

Among the dead was his sister Rachel, one year his senior, as she sat outside eating lunch, enjoying the first warm day of spring that year. Murdered at 17, Rachel Scott was an avid journal writer, often composing entries about acceptance, compassion, God and wanting to make a difference. “Compassion and honesty go hand in hand,” she wrote.

In a bit of tragic irony she compared herself to Anne Frank, another teenager who wanted to make a difference, but like Rachel, wasn’t sure how long she would be on this earth. Frank hid with her family from the Nazis in World War II and died in a concentration camp. “Just passing by, just coming through [this world],” Rachel once wrote.

Her funeral, televised on CNN, drew that cable TV network’s largest audience ever at the time.

“She had a lot of goals in life,” said Craig Scott, who implored his audience to “peel off negative labels.” His sister was often derided at school because she reached out to others that were not popular. She also asked God in her journals “to use me to reach the unreached.” Her brother said Rachel even began losing friends at Columbine because “she started to do what was right” when it came to life choices.

Craig told the 100 or so students on hand that Rachel had befriended the unpopular kids at school, perhaps preventing one teen from taking his own life along the way. Then she was gone. Since then Craig Scott and other family members have toured schools across the country with “Rachel’s Choice,” a program all about compassion, tolerance and acceptance.  In a journal she also urged others to stay true to their inner beliefs. “Don’t let your character change color with your environment,” she wrote.

He told it with the help of videos, audience participation and what he called “white boy dancing” on stage at Northside, interspersed with images of Rachel and excerpts from her journals.  A picture Rachel drew several hours before she was gunned down, in an art class, was prophetic almost beyond imagination: She drew her own eyes shedding 13 tears – the same number of students that died before Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris took their own lives – raining down on a rose, which was dripping blood.

Harris and Kleibold felt like outsiders and withdrew from others at Columbine, and from their families, before they went on a suicidal killing spree that shocked the nation and the world. Craig Scott urged the teens on hand not to do the same, to not withdraw when they need others for support. “You cannot even realize the full amount of purpose that you have,” he said.

“Show kindness and compassion to others,” Rachel Scott implored in one of her journals. “You might start a chain reaction,” she wrote. Added her kid brother from the Northside stage: “she was a teenage girl that believed she could make a difference.” In death she may be doing just that as her family brings a message of compassion and acceptance to teenaged audiences around the country. “I’m going to have an impact on the world,’ Rachel had predicted in her journal.

By the look of those in attendance at Northside, there is very little doubt of that.

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