Monday, March 30, 2009

Andy McDonald - Class of 2000 - Speaker

Describe your experience during the tragedy.

I was in my math class taking an exam. We heard a vibration in the walls (I tell people that it sounded like the room next to you is playing loud music and they have the bass blaring and the walls kind of shake). We looked up and our teacher told us to keep taking our test. I thought, at first, that it was a chemistry teaching doing an experiment. We heard it again and a teacher came by our classroom and told us to stay where we were. Shortly afterwards, the fire alarm went off and so we ended up exiting the building. Instead of going to the front lawn (which was the protocol) the teachers were sending students across the street into Leawood Park. After 10 minutes in the park (a long time for a fire drill) a friend, who was in the parking lot, told us, “One of the trench coat kids just shot some girl in the back.” It was then that we realized that this was more than just a drill and that something serious was really happening. After another 5-10 minutes, there was a loud explosion that all of the students in the park heard and all of us began running and screaming into the neighborhood. I ended up at my friends house and was there for around 4 hours watching everything happen on TV. It was very surreal for me because I was watching all of these people that I know running out of the school and being treated on the street.

When I finally got home I will never forget seeing my parent and how relieved they were that I had made it home safely. I went up to my room and started calling friends to see if everyone was alright. I remember calling Rachel Scott’s house. It went to the answering machine. The message was Rachel’s voice asking to leave a message. That was the last time that I heard her voice and that has always stuck with me.

In the following days and weeks, before we went back for classes, I spent a lot of time at St. Frances Cabrini and at Clement Park. Two things specifically stand out to me in that time. The first was when I saw a student that was in my grade that I had made fun of a lot in middle school and early high school. I saw him and I apologized for being so mean to him. He said that it was ok and we hugged. It’s hard to describe a moment like that but I will never forget how important it was in my life. The other thing that stuck out to me was when a girl in my class was very popular, and I didn’t think even knew who I was, came up to me a few days after the shootings and asked if I was doing alright. She gave me a hug and gave me the first of many CHS ribbons that I would wear, but that one to me will always stand out. Both those moments stand out to me because it didn’t matter who you were or what your status was at the school; everyone was so in need of something and everyone had something to give.

How has the healing process been for you over the past ten years?

For me, the healing process has been interesting. Some of the best advice that I got after the shootings was to not be afraid to talk about it. I have been very fortunate to be able to share my experiences with students across the country for almost 10 years. I think that this has helped in my healing tremendously. It has given me a chance to not only try and turn a negative personal experience into a positive experience/ lesson to others. Talking about it has helped me emotionally and also given me a sense of being proactive to others to try and prevent what happened to us at Columbine from happening again somewhere else and really making a difference in the lives of others.

Update me on your professional life - what have you been doing over the past ten years?

I graduated from Colorado State University in the Winter of 2004 with a degree in History. I worked for Hertz Rental Car for a year and a half. I got married in the summer of 2006 and moved to New Hampshire. I have been working in special education here for about 3 years now in a K-8 school and love what I am doing.

Starting in the fall of 2008 I started working for a non-profit organization called Rachel’s Challenge.

Describe your professional goals.

Hopefully, starting this summer, I am going to start taking classes towards my Masters of Education. I love working in education. To me, there is nothing unappealing about working with students, and working with them not only on their academics, but also working with them to become good people.

About Rachel's Challenge
What is the message behind it?

To reach as many people as possible with the message of kindness and compassion.

How did it get started?

It was started by Rachel’s dad Darrell. Shortly before Rachel died she wrote an essay called “My Ethics, My Codes of Life.” He has been speaking about the life of his daughter for almost 10 years, but Rachel’s Challenge, as an organization, I think has been around for about 3.5-4 years or so.

How many people are involved?

There are about 25 certified presenters. Some are full time, but most are seasonal/ occasional presenters (meaning that when there are a lot of schools asking for the presentation, these people are called on to help out).

How does it work?

It is a 1 hour assembly presentation and, if the school requests it, a 1 hour training with students from that school on how they can take the message they heard that day and use it to make their schools a better place. Also, there is a 1 hour evening community presentation. This is allows community members and parents to come and here the message that their students have heard and, hopefully, start a dialogue.

What is your involvement with it?

I am a seasonal certified presenter.

How long have you been doing it?
For about a year.

Why did you decide to get involved?

The program came to Plymouth Elementary School (where I work) and when I saw it I knew that it was something special and something that I wanted to be a part of. I flew out and interviewed and was asked to come back for training.

What do you hope personally that audiences take from Rachel's Challenge?

To not take the people around them for granted and to respect the differences that people have.

At any point, have you had reservations about being involved in Rachel's Challenge?


What sorts of reactions have you had from audience members? Is there anything that stands out in particular?

Audience members are very thankful once they see it. Often, they will come up with tears in their eyes. It is a very emotional message that really hits home to a lot of people.

Are many other survivors involved in Rachel's Challenge?

Of the 25 or so presenters, I think that there are 4 of us that were at Columbine.

Have you been involved in any other Columbine-related projects.

Here in NH I volunteer every year for a HS leadership conference and do a sit down with students and basically do a Q&A with them and try and help them realize how important respect is.

Has Columbine influenced your career goals? If so, how?

Absolutely. I don’t know if I would be in education today had it not been for my experiences at Columbine.

How did Columbine affect your spirituality?

I would say that I was a religious person before and after, but started to fall off after about my 2nd or 3rd year of college.

Had Columbine happened, how would you be different personally and professionally?

Columbine had a big impact on my life in the way that I look at relationships with people. I started to value those relationships more, both on a personal and a professional level. Columbine is a main reason that I work in education. I find that I can not only build strong personal/ professional relationships there, but I can try and have an impact on the students and how they interact with each other on a daily basis.

Looking around at the world today, what changes (positive OR negative) do you see as a result of Columbine?

I was talking to the Assistant Principal at the school that I work at. He said that he needed schedule a lockdown drill for later this year. I looked at him and said, “Your Welcome!” From an educational standpoint, Columbine changed the game. It has become the buzzword for any type of school violence or bullying that occurs within our school systems. As a result of what happened, I feel that there have been more positive changes made than there have been negative. School security had to take a look at itself and determine if they were indeed as safe as they could be. From a societal standpoint, I think that it made people look at themselves and reassess not only how they treat other people, but also what was most important to them.

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