Exercise compassion: Create a 'chain reaction'

CORONA DEL MAR — Students at Corona del Mar High School on Friday were encouraged to write thank you letters to one another and to not e-mail or text them.

The request was made in honor of Rachel Joy Scott, the first student killed in the Columbine High School tragedy on April 20, 1999.

Scott, just weeks before she was shot to death in Littleton, Colo., wrote a high school essay in which she theorized that if people just exercised a bit more compassion on a daily basis that such kindness would eventually become a "chain reaction."

Her legacy — what has come to be known as "Scott's Theory on Compassion" — was recounted inside the CdM gym, where the students had gathered for the annual Unity Assembly, marking 9/11.

Todd Lauderdale, who works for Rachel's Challenge, a nonprofit group based in Colorado, spoke to the students and told them about Rachel's theory.

"You can only get out of life what you put into it," he told the students. "Your input determines your output, and Rachel truly believed that if you just reach out and help somebody every day that it will spread, that it will have great impact."

Video footage of people who were touched by Scott's generosity, including the story of a man, a complete stranger, who had a flat tire and was stranded by the side of the road, were played on a big screen inside the gym.

Scott came to his rescue and offered him a flashlight and an umbrella in the pouring, freezing Colorado rain.

Weeks later, that same man read about Scott's death in the newspapers and saw her photograph and was moved to tears.

He later showed up at her grave site and planted flowers around it.

Denise Weiland, an advisor for CdM's human relations council, said every year the high school tries to hold some sort of event to recognize those who died on 9/11 or similar incidents, such as Columbine or the Oklahoma City bombing.

Some of the guest appearances have included Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary, hate crime prosecutors and a Red Cross volunteer who assisted at Ground Zero.

Terry Teale, a firefighter in Newport Beach, also turned out to share his thoughts.

"Our first assembly was very well received," Weiland recounts. "And now it's become a tradition."

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