It is amazing how one little idea can grow into something bigger than you ever dreamed imaginable. I am sure that the students and faculty of Whitwell Middle School never dreamt that their little afterschool project would ever end up receiving worldwide attention and eventually become a movie.
It started when the principal asked an instructor to create a program that would teach the students tolerance and diversity. Whitwell Tennessee was a small rural town with a population that, according to the US Census, was 97.35% white. So a Holocaust Education class was started in the fall of 1998. When told that 6,000,000 Jews had been killed during this time in history, one student, unable to fathom it, asked, “how many is 6,000,000? That set them on a task to see if they could collect 6,000,000 paperclips.
It turns out the paperclip played a role in Holocaust history. Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian, is sometimes mistakenly credited with inventing the paperclip. He did invent a clip, but it is not the same one use today. It seems the people of Norway used to wear the paperclip on their lapels as a symbol of resistance against Nazi occupation during the war.
As part of their project, the students developed a webpage and sent out letters to family, friends, celebrities and politicians. Slowly the paperclips started trickling in. Eventually the Press got involved and articles were written about the school project, and it began to pick up momentum. Paperclips starting arriving from all over the world. An old suitcase arrived from a group of students in Germany. Inside the suitcase were notes, written in German, attached to the clips. The notes were apologies to Anne Frank. (yes, this movie will make you cry)
It gets even bigger and better, but I encourage you to watch the movie for yourself….survivors of the Holocaust came and spoke to the students, a memorial was created, and over 29,000,000 paperclips collected….all from a little idea a principal had to help teach her students about diversity.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead.