EDUCATOR, MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER AND FORMER PRINCIPAL, WHITWELL MIDDLE SCHOOL
Linda Hooper served as a public school educator for over 30 years. In 2001, during her time as principal at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, Linda asked teacher Sandra Hooper to begin a Holocaust education class that would be the basis for a voluntary after-school program teaching tolerance. The participating students quickly felt overwhelmed when they learned the scale of the victims lost during the Holocaust and asked if they could collect something to represent all the individuals lost. Linda said the students could collect an item related to the war or Holocaust and after careful research, students decided to collect paper clips, worn by Norwegians on their lapels during the war as a symbol of Nazi resistance.
In a small town with little religious, racial or ethnic diversity, Whitwell Middle School students embraced the project and began writing letters and reaching out to friends, family and celebrities. The project grew in size after attracting the attention of international journalists and national media, who helped spread the word about the project. Eventually, the students began to receive responses from supporters as well as Holocaust survivors around the world. What began as a small voluntary after-school project expanded into a Holocaust awareness program that drew worldwide attention to the community and brought together students, teachers, families and the entire town in support of religious tolerance and the fight against discrimination. Today, the project has received over 30 million paper clips from 20 different countries, inspired an award-winning film Paper Clips and led to the creation of a Children's Holocaust Memorial at the school.
A firm believer in the power of education as a vehicle to tolerance, Linda brought to fruition a program that has touched the lives of many. She has since served as a motivational speaker, traveling around the world to speak about The Paper Clips Project and about teaching as a means to positively change the world. Linda says The Paper Clips Project and the Children's Holocaust Memorial are an affirmation of her beliefs that education is absolutely essential to change, that evil must be constantly battled, that everyone must study the past so as not to forget or repeat our past mistakes, and that there is a higher power guiding our destiny. She says, "I wish everyone could work with a group of students and their community on a project like this."