Surviving the Columbine Tragedy to Teaching Value
On this episode of The Living Alive Show, I’m speaking with Craig Scott. Craig is a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting. Since that tragic day, Craig has dedicated his life to making a difference in schools sharing his and his sister’s story. In this interview, I get to talk to Craig about the importance of kids feeling value and how we can create a ripple effect from showing kindness. We also talk about how important it is for kids to have emotional resilience and realize that, despite what other kids may say, they are in charge of their emotions and response.
Here’s what we discussed in today’s episode:
- The importance of our youth feeling value
- Craig’s experience in the Columbine shooting
- Starting a train reaction of kindness
- Building emotional resilience
Can’t listen? Here’s the transcript:
Welcome to the Living Alive Podcast. I’m Autumn Shields, a master connect coach, speaker, author and serial entrepreneur. And most importantly, your hostess, your to help you live your life alive. See, I believe we all have the ability to feel and be guided by life’s nudges to live on purpose. So I’m inviting you to take this journey with me. Rather you were here just wanting to dip your toe in the water and see what this is all about. Or maybe you are ready to dive deep. Thank you for joining us on today’s episode. On this show, you’ll hear powerful life-changing stories from thought leaders of all walks of life that are stirring things up. We will guide you on living your life fully alive. How to identify the nudges and I live in a healthy lifestyle actually makes a difference. So get ready to be inspired, challenged, and connected because it’s your time to make a splash on this show as we talk about and focus on living your life alive
Have you ever wondered how people who have experienced extreme trauma or abuse in their life find and get back to a place of living their life fully alive, or maybe you’ve experienced trauma or abuse in your life or know someone else who has and maybe are struggling to get past the things that come along with that like sadness, grief, loss, anger, forgiveness. Well, today I want you to know it is possible to live your life alive.
Today’s episode, you’re going to hear that although life may never be the same after that incident or incidences, you can find joy and purpose. As I served as a victim advocate for almost 15 years helping crime victims in Colorado and I was a first responder to Columbine, I witnessed not only the impact that crime had on individuals, but it’s aftermath and I observed why or maybe what it was, how some people can take their pain, grow through it, move through it, and actually come out on the other side and turn it into helping others.
Our guest today is an amazing example of just that he is a survivor of Columbine high school shooting. He was in the most intense scene in the library where 10 students lost their life. He watched as his two friends were both gunned down on each side of him. He later learned that his sister Rachel Joy Scott was the first student to be killed. Since then, he has found his way from being a victim to dedicating his life and making a difference in schools by sharing his and his sister’s story. In his 20 years of working in schools, he has to over a million people. He was appointed to a presidential panel on school safety and he’s an ongoing go-to expert for media interviews, especially after school shooting incidences. He’s been featured on over a thousand television and radio interviews and participated in over 50 documentaries. He started hundreds of ongoing clubs in schools that help create a more positive culture for students and to me, most importantly, his presentations have helped to stop hundreds of documented suicides as well as several school shootings.
He’s not only found his way through his pain because of that traumatic event that day. He has found his calling. Please join me in the conversation with Craig Scott. Welcome to the show, Craig.
Thank you so much for having me on.
Yeah, thank you for taking time. I know we both just have a short amount of time, but I’m so glad we were able to connect today and get this message out to so many more people. So our paths crossed over 20 years ago. Unfortunately during the Columbine shooting, my role at the time I was serving as a victim advocate coordinator helping crime victims and obviously responding to Columbine was one of the first school shootings of that magnitude. And as a community, not only as a school and families and community in the world, you know, forever was changed that day. And since our paths have crossed as you were a student and Columbine and lost your sister Rachel to the shooters. What’s been awesome about social media is I’ve been able to follow your path and over the last 20 years watching you, what you’ve done with that tragedy, not only in your own life but to so many others.
And you know, this podcast is about helping other people live alive and what you’ve been through. As a victim advocate, I saw so many people go through tragic things and everybody deals with things in different ways and what you’ve done is just amazing because of the difference you’re making in the lives of literally millions of kids. And so I’m so excited for you to share today what you’re doing with Value Up. And I know you’ve spoken over to a million students and you’ve been speaking for over 20 years, so I would just love for you to share your insight with the youth today about what you’re seeing with the youth, what you’re experiencing at the school and what this program Value Up is all about.
Absolutely. It’s been my calling, ever since I survived that day. I was in this scene of the most intense shooting in the library, the school library, and had two friends killed next to me and then losing my sister. I just felt like I had to make the most of my life and because my friends died next to me, my sister didn’t make it. And so I’m kind of like a soldier that comes back from war that leaves friends behind, and sometimes those soldiers want to make their life count even more. And that’s kinda how I felt. I also felt that I had a lot of support and I had a lot of people that reached out to me and I got counseling and I started to focus on some good things that helped me heal. And so I’ve been speaking since I was a senior in high school, which was 20 years ago. And so it’s been an amazing journey to see what I’ve seen in schools and be a part of making such an impact.
Yes. Thank you. And thank you for all that you’ve done. And so I know you worked with Rachel’s Challenge. And for those of you that don’t know Rachel’s Challenge, you can look that up, which has been an amazing organization and touch so many and then recently moved and created a program called Value Up. So can you talk about that program and then really what you see with the youth today?
Okay. So I think that we’ve kind of moved away as a country from one operating system to another. We used to have a viewpoint in our country of kind of that we were made in the image of God. That we were, that every person had this incredible high intrinsic value. We all had inalienable rights. The Declaration of Independence talked about the pursuit of happiness. That we all have this, as Americans, that everyone had value, whether someone was poor, whether someone was rich, that everyone’s life has meaning and value. And the last years the rate of suicide has more than doubled and it has gone from the third causes of death among people to bumping up to number two, which is a big deal. And a lot of, and it might be the last 10 years, I might be saying that wrong. But it’s been a huge increase. And, I think that what I’ve seen with kids that I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of kids over the years that have had these kinds of thoughts of taking their life is that they don’t feel like they have purpose and they don’t believe that they have value. And so one of the why I named my program Value Up,
Because Dylan Klebold, who was one of the shooters at Columbine, his mom wrote a book and she said in her book that we valued him, but he didn’t believe he had value. And it just popped out up to me to name my organization Value Up. And so I have a key core message. And that is that you have incredible intrinsic value. It’s not based on what you look like. It’s not based on what other people say about you. It’s not even based on your history and the things that you’ve done. It’s kind of like that you are this gold and nothing could ever take that value out. And how you express your value to others, whether you make that value of use to others is up to you. Your value might lie dormant to other people, but it’s always there.
It always exists when a person believes this about themselves, when they believe that no matter what, that they’re valuable. It really is a game-changer because we choose things that are a lot based on who we think we are. We choose things based off our identity. And so I share a program that psychologically sounds very inspiring. I share my story. I share and do a lot of things for Value Up. I do assemblies for schools. I start clubs in schools that become a positive force for co positive cultural change in the school. I do teacher trainings and professional development. And then I do community events and parent events. I’m scheduled to go out to Parkland and a few weeks and I’m meeting with all the siblings of all the kids that lost siblings at Parkland because I was down there and I met with a kid that lost his brother. And, his brother Nick, and he was in an adjacent room. And so I felt like I was talking to my 16 year old self because he was in a room where people were killed. He lost friends and then an adjacent room has his brother who was killed. And that’s kinda like my story. I was in the library with friends that were killed next to me. And then right outside the school library, my sister was killed, so I was just pouring out to him. So there’s a lot that I do. So my main message is that you have incredible value. The other messages are dealing with valuing others. And I share my sister’s story a lot with that, how she stepped out and compassion to show kindness to other people.
One month before she was killed, she wrote a challenge to her generation and an essay she wrote started talking about starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. And she said: I have this theory that of one person would go out of their way to show compassion. Then it will start a chain reaction to the same. And people will never know how far a little bit of kindness can go. And she ends her essay by saying, you just may start a chain reaction. And so I give the challenge to people and to young people, step out and compassion to start a chain reaction. You’re going to start a chain reaction no matter what with your words and actions on others. Is it going to be a positive or negative one that’s up to you. The amazing thing about that is at the same time that she was writing this essay, challenging her generation to step out and show compassion and start a chain reaction of kindness.
The shooters at Columbine were making a videotape. This is one month before the shooting and their parents’ basement talking about their plans and what they wanted to do. At the very end of the video, one of them picked up a gun and pointed it at the camera and he said, we need a kickstart, an effing revolution. We need to get a chain reaction going here. And he was talking about starting a chain reaction to school shootings in our country. And they actually have done that to a degree. So they were talking about their plans and what they wanted to do in this video and wanting to start a chain reaction to school shootings. So I talk to kids about valuing others and using my sister’s writings and things that she did. How she reached out to a kid who had disabilities in school, how he was having thoughts of taking his own life.
And how she had a big impact on him to other things that she did. My last core challenges, choose things that match your value at once. You know, your insurance, like value. It’s not egotistical. It’s not that I’m better than other people, it’s just I am incredible. I am wonderful. The brain that we’ve been given is the most amazing machine ever created. I have kids that come up to me that don’t think they have value. And I’m like, and I, sometimes I do things, I show them their fingertips and I say, you know, there are companies that have spent millions of dollars creating prosthetic limbs and they could spend $1 billion and not do the intricate things that your fingertips can do.
I tell them, I’ve been on movie sets, cause that’s my other world. I’d work on movies and we’re on sets. We have lenses that are 80,000, 90,000, $100,000, and I can’t come close to doing what the human eye can do. And then I tap on their temple. I’m like, now you think about your brain and the power that this machine has. So when somebody really believes in their intrinsic value, they believe in themselves, they believe that they have the potential to do great things. It makes them choose better things. It gives them hope when they feel like they have that, that value.
Yes. Wow. I love when you were talking about the chain reaction that Rachel wanted to start and just looking at the other side of that, that the flip side of that, that rather it’s, you know, somebody makes bad choices when they don’t see value in themselves. And I love that you named it Value Up after reading that book that it just came full circle. But you know, you’re going to the core of what will really, really make an impact in helping these kids not only know that they have value, but rather they’re struggling with whatever, to know that they have value and when they’re contemplating suicide or they’re contemplating hurting somebody else and if they’re not enough to be able to really focus in on that value and to have them not only experience that and learn that, but to really hold onto it to when they have struggles in their life after school and as we age, even as adults, to really hone in on that value.
And I love that you said chain reaction on the show. We talk a lot about the ripple effect and that’s why I wanted you on to share is because what you’ve gone through and the impacted you’re making, it’s not just the millions of kids you spoke to in the hundreds of kids you’ve worked with, outside of those assemblies is that it’s the ripple effect from what those kids experience in our own lives. Because just like you said, if it affects that one person, every single choice has that ripple effect. And what you’re doing is not just to those hundreds of kids and thousands of kids. It ripples and ripples and ripples and it’s so important. So, so thankful for the work you’re doing. And I encourage the listeners to really hone in on just like you said, words of kindness, all the way to saying and reaching out to someone or recognizing that there’s a problem and that we all can make a difference.
You know, Autumn, I share my sister’s story and give the challenge of kindness and compassion and how we treat other people says so much about who we are. But I’ve seen a need with educators across the country that we’ve been pretty good in schools about talking about how we treat others. Actually, Columbine really launched the anti-bullying and a lot of the social-emotional learning stuff that’s happening in schools and there’s been a lot of emphasis on that. What I’m hearing from educators though is something else that’s really needed amongst young people today. And I see it very clearly and not only do I talk about believing in this intrinsic value, but I also talk about how when I share my story and all the negative emotions that I had to deal with and PTSD and just a lot of my struggle and anger and dealing with things, I talk about how you can take certain negative emotions and neurologically translate them and to positive emotions. You can take anger and turn it into determination. You can take sadness and turn it into appreciation for life, fear into courage and anxiety into excitement. And there’s actually a lot of the same, some of the same things with your body that you feel, like with anxiety, your body actually feels the same way. It’s just your state of mind. If you change what you believe about the situation it changes how you feel.
One of the big things that I’m hearing from educators across the country is a need for what they’re calling emotional resiliency. Because yes, it’s important to treat others with kindness, but if someone doesn’t treat you with that kindness, if someone is leaving you out or someone does say something wrong to you, something racist to you, something that’s judged you, something that’s put you down. What’s important to know is that we are still responsible for our emotions at that point and if we don’t take responsibility, if we say you did this to me, then we put all the power in that person and we have to get that person to change for us to change, for me to be happy, I have to get you to change. And that’s against all great teachings in philosophies and that true happiness has to come from within us first.
True contentment comes from within and then go and then goes out. So one of the things that I really teach and sharing my story in this presentation and trainings that I do at schools is I talk about emotional resiliency. And I talk about that in-between what happens to you in life and your response and science, they would call it the stimulus and response, is in the middle is what you think is your paradigm. How you see the world, everything that happens to you between what happens to you and what you do. And you know, somebody says something mean to you and you feel angry or you feel sad, it just automatically happens. I go from, something happening to me from A to C. but the truth is there’s always, even if it’s a short time or a moment, in the middle is B.
Because if somebody says something very mean to me, in between is B, I can actually choose, do I believe that person? Somebody says something really hurtful or negative. Can I see through that and realize, Oh, that’s that person’s insecurity or that person’s need to put me down because they’re insecure about themselves and a lot of bullies are actually narcissistic and even the word bullying is getting really overplayed in education today. Everything’s becoming bullying. And so a great question to ask. If someone says, well, I’m getting bullied. Says what happened? Tell me what happened. And if they explained to you what happened, sometimes you find out it’s not bullying. It’s not somebody that’s really malicious towards someone putting them down on a regular basis. Just is the story.
Whatever happens in life, it’s how we frame the story. And I love that you’re diving deeper with the students because it isn’t just enough to tell everybody to be nice because we step into the real world. Rather we’re students or we are adults and bad things happen and people are hurtful towards each other. And it’s how we frame the story and how we’re going to respond to that. So I’m so glad the educators are being able to communicate that with you and you can just dive a lot deeper.
Yeah, I’m dealing with a lot of mental health issues when I’m speaking. I talk about how to help people and find meaning through that, how to break free from your past, not be totally identified. I talked about forgiveness for a couple of years. I hated the shooters. I was filled with so much anger. Every time I saw them on the news, I would get filled with so much hate. I ended up taking that out on my family and the people I was close to. And then I met a man from Africa who was this man I spent a lot of time with and I came to find out his story. He was always filled with so much joy. He is saying these beautiful Zulu songs a lot. But one day I told him my story and he listened.
And then he told me his, and he told me how he came home one day in South Africa to find his entire village had been slaughtered by another tribe. And it was during the Apartheid. When tribes were killing other tribes, very violent time in South Africa. And he came home to find 17 members of his family had been killed. And he told me forgiveness is like setting a prisoner free and finding out that prisoner is you, and when he told me this story about losing everybody that he loved, I didn’t understand at first how he could be so filled with joy, but he’s come to a place of contentment that when bad things happen, yes they’re going to affect us emotionally. But if they’re affecting us emotionally, 10, 20 years down the road that we become victims of our past, we haven’t learned how to let go.
And that’s what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is a letting go. It’s usually a lot of times more for the person forgiving them that’s being forgiven. And it’s a freeing and it’s a freeing of your past that I’m no longer going to hold on to this. And there’s a lot of things that I talk about. I talk about things I dealt with, things that kids are dealing with today. Social media, social anxiety, suicidal thinking. I even talk about sexuality to a small degree, does your value apply there? In a culture today where we really have tried to promote kindness, not bullying and not putting other people down. That’s been very good. But on the flip side of that coin is if you are not treated right, you still are responsible for your thoughts and your emotions, no one else can be.
So if you are getting mistreated, it’s like, that’s why I hate the whole thinking of if you’re bullied at school, you know, the possibilities to come is to do a school shooting and after Columbine that became a part of American psyche and teen psyche and is a very, very wrong thinking. We have to eradicate that. But that’s not okay. Culturally we’ve eradicated lots of paradigms that we’ve had as a culture. You know, at one point smoking was, everyone did it, now we made it in our society that it’s unhealthy and wrong. We have to get rid of the paradigm that if you’re picked on or bullied that you can go kill people. And that’s a horrible injustice.
And so, building this emotional resiliency is really key. Being emotionally tough, being able to, when life mistreats you or people mistreat you, which everyone has to deal with to a degree, knowing how to deal with that. Can you take that anger and turn it into determination? Can you see through somebody’s words and realize, this has nothing to do with me. This is all about this person, they treat everybody this way. They have problems in their life. Maybe they’ve never been shown love. Maybe they have bad role models or abuse at home or whatever the case is. We have to believe in our own value and their value and see it through the lens of how am I going to choose to see this? Am I going to give them the power and let them put me down? Because the truth is, people can try to put you down but they can only do so with your permission.
It is just so awesome that this paradigm shift is happening and that we are diving deeper on that. You’re part of that paradigm shift that we can’t control our external environment. Rather just like you said, somebody comes from abuse or they’re not loved or we can’t change that, but regardless if our environment is positive or we do have that support.
The other flip side of that is that once I find my value, nobody can take that away either. So if my circumstances change, what’s so great about that is honing in on that value in going deeper. I get to hold on to that. I get to own that. And there’s so much power in that.
And for me, you know, part of that comes through my faith, but it doesn’t have to be a faith-based thing. I think it’s, I’ve read the psychology about how what we think about ourselves is so important. So even if it’s not a faith thing, but for me it is part of my faith. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made and I also view myself as being one of my life mottoes is I’m God’s kid, that I see myself as being a son of God. Jesus said that he was the first of many sons. And so I see myself with that identity as well. So I always believe the value, even when I’ve done the worst things in my life, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, mistakes, people, if they knew the real me on my worst day, they wouldn’t see me the same way, but it doesn’t change how God sees me or it doesn’t change my value.
Now, if you aren’t of that faith, then it’s just important to see it from a psychological point of view that how you see yourself, based on what you think your identity is. You will choose things based and match that identity. So if you think you’re worthless, if you think you’re a loser, then it’s OK. If you do things that hurt your body, it’s okay if you have negative influences in your life because you’re a piece of garbage. But if you believe I have great potential, no matter what, no matter where I come from, no matter what I look like, no matter what other people say about me. I have an incredible tool. This mind that’s been given to me, this brain that I have. And if you believe that about yourself, then you start saying no to negative influences and you start saying yes to the positive influences and things that can further you as a person, further your leadership, further your growth.
So how we see what happens to us, how will we see ourselves, and how we see others is really what I dive into in my presentations and my trainings. And then if you are a person that you view anything that comes into your life as an opportunity to grow, I know that sounds cliche, but, if you see problems in your life, most people want to self medicate and run away, but instead you see them as opportunities to grow and deepen yourself. Then nothing that can happen to you. If bad things happen. It doesn’t steal your joy. It doesn’t steal your peace. Yeah, it’ll rock you. Things are gonna rock you. And there’s always a time for emotion. You know, anger, sadness, grief, even fear, anxiety, there’s always a time for emotion.
But, that time should have a time period on it. It should have a time limit on it. And each person might be a little different, but it shouldn’t be decades. And I’d meet people that are reliving their hurts from 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and they’re locked in their past. And I didn’t want to be that. I didn’t want to be a victim. Being a victim to me is saying basically this terrible thing that happened to me is now going to disable me the rest of my life in some way or fashion. And instead I want to teach people, teach kids that the things that happened to you, the worst thing that happens to you can, if you deal with it the right way and you view it the right way, it can actually become your greatest strength.
My greatest purpose in my life has come out of my worst tragedy and my deepest pain. But from that has come the most beautiful calling and purpose in my life and that is getting to do this work that I do through Value Up.
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and not only your story, it’s who you’ve become through your story and who you’ve chosen to become through your story. And thank you for sharing about forgiveness and faith and your calling and such a great example to be there for others because I know when this happened to you, you didn’t have a lot of examples and people there for you and the students at that time and for you to be able to create a story that’s inspirational and that you can get to the other side of this for the students that are going through this now unfortunately.
But I’m so thankful that you’re there for other students and I’m so thankful that you’re diving into a paradigm shift about really helping kids grab on to that value because I do believe it’s going to make a huge, huge difference. So thank you Craig. And for those people that want to learn more about Value Up, how can they look that up? Of course, I’ll have it in the show notes, but how can people get in touch with you?
Well, my website is valueup.org. If someone’s interested in my speaking, I speak in schools mostly churches, conferences. I do some work with detention centers. I’ve spoken in prisons, juvenile detention centers. I’m actually doing some work, mental health work and speaking to groups in homeless shelters out in Seattle this year. But most of my work is in schools and I speak all the way from elementary through college.
I have an elementary program that educators love, elementary educators love. And then my middle school and high school programs are very different obviously. But if they want information they can go to valueup.org. If they’re interested in me, they can email the person that’s in charge of my bookings. And her name is Debbie Philips, and they can email her firstname.lastname@example.org. So email@example.com. I, used to have 80, 90 trips on the road with my father’s program, Rachel’s Challenge, which is an amazing program. Last couple of years starting off my own, so I’m not quite as booked cause people don’t know I’m out there as much. So I really feel my purpose when I’m out there helping youth. So please, if you’re interested, reach out. Thanks for having me on Autumn.
Yes, Craig, thank you so much for all the work that you’re doing out there. We know it’s tiring and it’s a lot of work traveling and working with kids, but I know it’s making a huge difference. So thank you for being you and I appreciate your time.
Thank you for joining us and I hope you enjoy today’s show. And remember, good friends don’t keep great messages to themselves, so keep the ripples moving and share this episode with your friends. Also, wherever you listen to podcasts, please take a moment to review or download this episode. I would love to connect with you regardless of where you’re at on your journey. Maybe you’re feeling like you can’t set sell or maybe you’re out there rock in the open seas. Find me at followthenudges.com or on social and say hello. If you would like a complimentary coaching session, all you have to do is click on let’s connect. And let me know three things that you would like to get out of the conversation, and we will make it happen. So make today the day you decide to live your life alive and leave room for the unimaginable. So until next time, keep following the nudges.