On October 20, Beth Nimmo came to Chapin to discuss her extraordinary daughter Rachel with Upper School students at News. Seventeen-year-old Rachel Joy Scott was one of 12 students and one teacher who lost their lives in the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.
The deeply moving Upper School News began with Ms. Nimmo, who is also a Chapin aunt (her nieces are Gwyn Guenther in Class 10 and alumna Grace Guenther '17), showing a clip from her documentary "I'm Not Ashamed," which she made to honor Rachel's life and legacy. As the lights dimmed in the Assembly Room, a dark-haired teenage girl appeared on the screen, talking and laughing with her friends. With her bright smile and outgoing personality, she embodied vibrancy and promise.
As they watched the film clip and listened to Ms. Nimmo's story, the Upper School students grew quiet and still. No one whispered or fidgeted in her chair. The room was completely hushed. Although every seat was occupied and many teachers stood along the edges of the room, Ms. Nimmo's brave voice was the only audible sound.
"Everyone has the ability to make choices," she stated. "Sometimes we live in the pain of someone else's choices." Ms. Nimmo was referring to the two students responsible for the Columbine massacre. "These boys were addicted to violence. It fed the hatred and anger inside of them."
Ms. Nimmo did not visit Chapin solely to re-live that terrible day 18 years ago, nor did she delve into political issues like gun control. Rather, she came to share an inspirational message of hope by illustrating how, despite the pain and heartache that followed, her daughter's death continues to impart life lessons for loved ones left behind and for young people everywhere.
Rachel, she said, was an uplifting and kind person who routinely reached out to those in need, whether by inviting a new student to sit with her at lunch or offering words of support to a classmate going through a tough time. After she died, Ms. Nimmo and her family learned more of her remarkable kindness, including from one student who was contemplating suicide until Rachel intervened. Additional scenes from the documentary affirmed her compassion and sensitivity. The interviews with her siblings – including one brother who survived the shooting – were very poignant.
"Do you know how powerful kindness is?" Ms. Nimmo asked. "You can change the paradigm by being kind." She encouraged the students to talk to a different person every day without judgment or pre-conceived notions. "You don't know what's going on inside someone else. They may be fighting battles you know nothing about," she added.
She reminded the girls to believe in themselves, to treat their families with love and to make positive, thoughtful decisions. "Choose well. You never know how things will affect you for the rest of your lives," she stressed.
To the amazement of the audience, Ms. Nimmo shared that Rachel had traced her own hands on the back of her dresser and wrote the prophetic message: "These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people's hearts." If Ms. Nimmo's visit to Chapin and her tireless mission to spread Rachel's message of love and acceptance were any indication, Rachel's prediction has come true in spectacular fashion. Along with the documentary, Ms.Nimmo is the author of the books "Rachel's Tears" and "The Journals of Rachel Scott." She also founded Rachel's Challenge, a non-profit organization created to help make schools less susceptible to harassment, bullying and violence.
"It doesn't take much to make someone's day," Ms. Nimmo remarked. At the end of her presentation, she opened the floor to questions and comments. With great emotion, one student said, "I just want to say thank you so much for sharing Rachel's story with us. Especially in the current state of the world, it is so important to recognize kindness."
Afterwards, a cluster of girls stayed behind to talk more privately with Ms. Nimmo, who listened attentively and dispensed more than a few hugs. It was clear that every person in the Assembly Room was touched by Beth Nimmo's story of unfathomable loss and her inspiring message of hope. As they move through their days at Chapin and beyond, it is likely that the students carry with them 17-year-old Rachel Scott's enduring commitment to kindness.
Resources from Dr. Rona Shalev, Chapin's Head of Counseling Services:
· "Talking to Children about Violence," The National Association of School Psychologists
· "What Makes Kids Care: Teaching Gentleness in a Violent World," The American Psychological Association