Sandy Hook shooting survivor reads from new book 'Choosing Hope'

Schoolteacher and survivor Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis is seen during her reading of her new book, "Choosing Hope" at UConn on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. (Grant Zitomer/The Daily Campus)

After the tragic events of Dec. 14, 2012, many people struggled to understand the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school. For schoolteacher and survivor Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, that meant actively choosing to regain control of her life and choosing to hope for a better future. Those choices are the subject of Roig-DeBellis’ new book, “Choosing Hope,” which she read Wednesday night.

“That morning, I awoke on a morning like any other… Not even three hours later, my sense of peace, calm and happiness was shattered forever. We had just finished greeting each other, when loud, rapid shots came over and over,” Roig-Debellis said. “There is no need for me, this evening, to go into the details of that day… It is necessary to convey that you can move forward, no matter what your darkness is.”

Before she discussed her life after the Sandy Hook shooting, Roig-DeBellis outlined the reasons that she wanted to become a teacher. Arguing that we each have a purpose, Roig-DeBellis said that her purpose was to become a teacher.

“We each have a very definite purpose...I have known since the age of five that I wanted to be a teacher. Since I was 10, I did everything I could to make that happen,” Roig-DeBellis said. “I want to share with you just a snippet about what being a teacher has meant to me.”

Teachers play a unique role in the lives of students, Roig-DeBellis said, because they have to opportunity to change lives over the course of months and years. 

“As a teacher, you are the difference maker in your students lives…you build this caring community within your classroom where everyone feels safe and welcome and part of the team. You are acutely aware that impacting and changing even one life a year is an immense gift,” Roig-DeBellis said.

Roig-DeBellis included a series of quotes about inspiration and choice in her presentation. Among those quoted were Oscar Wilde, Eleanor Roosevelt and Robert Frost. She also argued that her parents, who adopted her at a young age, played a significant role in creating her principles.

“My parents taught me two lessons that I carry with me to this day: the first is that we each have many gifts to give, and it is our responsibility to give them,” Roig-DeBellis said. “The second is that everyone has a story and we need to be good listeners in order to hear one another’s.”

Doug Kaufman, an associate professor of curriculum instruction who helped organize the event, said that Roig-DeBellis’ presentation was a great tool for helping students who were looking to go into teaching understand the role that teachers play in the lives of their students.

“Teaching is something that’s not limited to the classroom,” Kaufman said. “All teaching arises out of your own ability to listen…a good listener is a good teacher, and that’s what Kaitlin is.”

 Students who attended the event also said it was an educational and inspiring experience.

“I’ve never seen [Roig-Debellis] speak before, but it was a great presentation and she was very inspiring,” Michael Petrone, a fifth semester economics major, said. 

Roig-DeBellis also talked about her charity, “Classes 4 Classes,” which she founded after the Sandy Hook shooting. The origin of the charity, she said, actually lay in her class, which donated many of the gifts that they received in the wake of the shooting to another school in need, sparking a chain reaction that would stretch across multiple states.

“They felt so inspired by our kindness that they reached out to a school in Arizona, and said ‘what do you need?’ That was the first three classrooms that taught students how to be empathetic and kind through giving,” Roig-DeBellis said.

After all the emotional turmoil that she has experienced in the past few years, Roig-Debellis says that the one constant has been her desire to continue teaching and serving an educator. 

“If one thing has only been bolstered, it is my purpose as an educator. That has only been bolstered since December of 2012,” Roig-DeBellis said.


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.