Accepting Rachel’s Challenge: La Jolla High students explore compassion at special assembly

Talia Chalhoub (left) helped organize the presentation by speaker Ali Nourbakhsh with La Jolla High School’s Kindness Counts Club. Ashley Mackin photos
Talia Chalhoub (left) helped organize the presentation by speaker Ali Nourbakhsh with La Jolla High School’s Kindness Counts Club. Ashley Mackin photos

By Ashley Mackin

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” That’s partly the basis for Rachel’s Challenge, an organization aimed at creating safer, kinder learning environments, and equipping people of all ages with knowledge on how to make the world a better place. Rachel’s Challenge is named for Rachel Joy Scott, the first student to die during the Columbine High School massacre of 1999.

La Jolla High School students, thanks to their new

Kindness Counts Club

, were able to attend a Rachel’s Challenge presentation by speaker Ali Nourbakhsh on Jan. 29. Over the course of two assemblies, a voluntary meeting and a parents’ meeting that evening, he explained the five elements of Rachel’s Challenge and little bit about her life and mission.

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Talia Chalhoub (left) helped organize the presentation by speaker Ali Nourbakhsh with La Jolla High School’s Kindness Counts Club. Ashley Mackin photos

His presentation opened with information, including newscasts and videos, about the tragic Columbine shooting, at which 12 students, one teacher and the two shooters died in less than one hour. The shooters were Columbine students.

A week after Rachel died, her parents found an essay she wrote the month before for a class assignment. She called it, “My Ethics. My Codes of Life.” Therein, she urged everyone to start a chain reaction of compassion and listed five challenges.

“Rachel was a normal teenager. She made mistakes and didn’t get the best grades all the time and there were times she struggled,” Nourbakhsh said. “But look at the impact one person could make.”

Rachel’s five challenges

■ 1) Look for the best in others and remove prejudice.

“I’ve been guilty of prejudice. Prejudice just means judging someone before you get to know them. That’s all that means,” Nourbakhsh said.

He proceeded to ask if anyone, honestly, has judged someone before they got to know them, to which students reluctantly raised their hands (or raised them just a little bit).

He explained that Rachel believed everyone deserves three chances to show who they really are, and hoped that people will give others those three chances.

■ 2) Dream big and believe in yourself, and write down your goals.

“It doesn’t matter how physically small you are, the labels on your clothes or how much money you have, you have to believe in yourself. And write it down, because once it’s written down it’s not just a dream,” Nourbakhsh said.

Rachel kept many journals, including one that was in her backpack the day she died. A photo of the back cover shows there is a bullet hole in the corner of the journal.

■ 3) Choose to have positive influences and choose to be a positive influence.

“I’m not here to tell you what a positive influence is, I don’t want to do that, I have no right to do that,” Nourbakhsh said. “But those you surround yourself with will shape who you will become.” He added that Rachel said, in a letter to her cousin, “Don’t let your character change color with your environment.”

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