Ready for Rachel’s Challenge

She was the first to die that day. She will never be the first to be forgotten.

Rachel Scott was just another high school student the day her life was taken by two of her fellow classmates in the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Using her words from diaries, letters and poems she wrote, her message of love and compassion lives on through an educational school and community program that tours the country.

The assembly we had at school today was so incredible. It was so deeply moving to me, especially because I remember that tragic day so well. A special assembly will be presented to the community in the gymnasium at Raymore-Peculiar High School at 7 p.m. tonight (Dec. 2). If you live in the area and can make it, it will be worth your time.

Called “Rachel’s Challenge,” the assembly asks us to do five things:  Treat others the way you wish to be treated; dream big; seek good influences in life; spread “positive gossip,” good words about others; and, lastly, start a chain reaction. 

I love this message. It is very similar to what I have been saying to my students for the past eight years and to readers of my newspaper opinion columns for the five years prior to that.

After asking my students if they believed they had the ability to save a life, I told them a story,  a story about a young girl. Sad and alone, she walked through crowds of people in a busy city. She came to the river. She continued walking, right into the river. Swept away by the current, her body was finally located several miles downstream.

On shore, a simple note was found, snagged on some brush near where she walked into the river. The note said, “No one said hello.”

Ever since I first heard that story, I was moved by its power. Those four amazingly simple, yet so profound, words….”No one said hello.” If someone would have just done something as simple as greet her and smile, she would not have taken her own life.

I know there are days I feel down. There are times when someone just says “hello” to me and I know I will then be able to make it through the day. Maybe that person was you —  if not for me, maybe for someone else. You might have saved a life already and not even known it. We have more power than we realize.

You may not believe this, but I do know how it feels to be alone in a crowd. I sometimes feel I have spent my entire life that way. I can make people laugh; I know I have that ability. One thing I sometimes struggle with, surprisingly, is making myself happy.

Somehow in conversations over the years, I mention that comedians are actually among the most depressed people of all. I do not know if anyone ever caught on, but I was including myself in that.

If people are laughing, they are too busy to ask you about your life, they are too distracted by the humor to see the truth, they are too misled by your comedic wit to ever think you could be withering. I suffer from serious bouts of depression, it is true. It is not something I normally discuss. It is something with which I simply deal (and most of the time just refuse to acknowledge).

I just deal with it. And all you have to do is say “hello.”

I just want to strive to be as good as Rachel Scott knew we could all be everyday of my life. I know I will not always be able to do it, but I vow to try. I accept Rachel’s Challenge! If you want to know more, check out

Normally, I would not publish my poetry on here, but this is a poem I wrote shortly after another tragic school shooting, this one at a school in California called Santana High School,  and while thinking of the tragedy of Columbine. Here is that poem:


Safe Haven

 By John VanPelt

In Memory of the Students of Santana and Columbine high schools


I crawl to natural science

To study the evolution of man

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

This wasn’t in Darwin’s plan.


I stroll to history

To explore ancient times

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

The blood-stained hands of crime.


I saunter to Spanish

To master a foreign tongue

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

The last dying gasp of the young.


I skim to English

To read great authors of the past

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

How long will this pain last?


I scurry to biology

To examine the innards of mice

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

To violence we are desensitized.


I sprint to algebra

To solve complex formulas of math

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

We move backwards on the wrong path.


I tear home

To escape the safe haven of school

Blood on the windows, blood on the walls

 The lesson of death has become the rule.


We live in such strange times, with such mind-boggling tragedy. Let’s get through it together. Let’s get together.


Everyone, just smile and say “hello.” We will save lives.


***Photo courtesy of Rachel’s Challenge

12 responses to “Ready for Rachel’s Challenge

  1. no it wasnt an insult at all i was just saying. and wat i meant by having to listen to it from someone else. i was talking about the meaning of something. like i didnt really think of tht opening like u did until u told me. and thts when i relized wat u meant. i wasnt trying to say u were insulting anyone/

  2. As always, I’m awed by your writing. Thank you for sharing your personal story and your very intense poem. WOW! VP, you are incredible!

    Chin up; you’re loved! 🙂

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Thank you so much, Ms. Rice. That means a lot to me coming from you, as I am awed by your creative writing skills as well. I am glad you liked it.

      I thought as a CA teacher you would be one to catch how each verb choice was purposely calibrated to subject matter and pace of action. Plus, the double meaning of the word, “tear,” at the end. It could mean to run out helter skelter, wild fast, but it also refers to weeping. Anyway, I’m not sure if my students always catch on to such things, so it’s nice when someone does.

      And, thanks! You are loved, too!


    • its cool i guess i didnt really think of tht opening tht way. but i see wat u mean now. sometimes u have to look at someones elses idea to understand it

      • Vantage Point Productions

        This is true Bobby. You have to hear from where they were coming. You are right. I did not mean that to sound as an insult to my students or former students in any way. I hope you did not take it as such. Thanks.


  3. oh and just cause your the first to be shot. doesnt mean you always be the first one forgotten about. ask yourself do you remember all the names or wat they look like. of all the people who were shot and/or killed in the columbine highschool.

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Yeah, I did not mean it to be taken like that. I really only worded it that way as a literary device. It was meant to be the hook to the story, you know, making you want to read more.

      I honestly can’t say I remember all those kids names. When I heard Rachel Scott’s name at the assembly, I did remember her, however. Like somehow over the years her name was the one that stuck in my subconscious, probably because she was the one mentioned the most on the news then and since.

      Anyway, I meant no disrespect to the other 12 people murdered that day. As I said, it was merely meant to catch your attention and make you want to read more.

      Thanks Bobby. I appreciate your valuable insight. Take care.


  4. ya i agree with you. i try to say hello as much as i can to friends. but now thts inspired me to try and say it to everyone. and sometimes i also feel alone and feel like no one cares. so i may make jokes or act out to hide tht. love the poem. i think our class was really good though at telling when something was wrong with you. and i relized how much better u felt after telling us. SO ALL PEOPLE WHO READ THIS. JUST SAY HELLO TO EVERYONE U SEE. AND IF SOMEONE SEEMS SAD OR MAD. TAKE THE TIME TO ASK AND LISTEN TO WHATS WRONG WITH THEM

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Great Bobby, I agree. I try to say hello to nearly every person I pass. Now, not always, like going up and down the aisle at the grocery store. But walking in as someone is walking out, I might. Or helping someone get a cart, I might.

      At school, I try to say hello to every one I pass in the hall, even students I do not know. I figure people like to be acknowledged as existing and being in that space near you at that time. Anyway, I like it when people say hello to me.

      Okay. Take care. Thanks Bobby.

      Check the comment on your other statement above.

      Your friend and proud former teacher,


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