Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

John Halligan 2 web cropJohn Halligan, who lost his 13-year-old son to suicide in 2003, talks about bullying, cyberbullying and depression on April 8 at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford. (Photo submitted)

WEST HARTFORD – “Laws cannot fix bullying; you can.” That was the message of John Halligan to students at Northwest Catholic High School, at one of two talks he gave there on April 8.

Mr. Halligan spoke to students and parents about bullying, cyberbullying and depression.

Mr. Halligan lost his 13-year-old son, Ryan, to suicide on Oct. 7, 2003. At the time of his death, Ryan was a student at a middle school in Vermont. It was later learned that Ryan had been ridiculed and humiliated by peers at school and online. In memory of his son and just a few months after Ryan’s death, Mr. Halligan spearheaded the Vermont Bullying Prevention law in 2004. He also led efforts to pass a law in 2006 pertaining to suicide prevention education in public schools.

Mr. Halligan told students not to be bystanders, but to be “up-standers”; to call friends out when they’re being bullies; and to encourage friends to get help when they’re being bullied or dealing with depression.

He also encouraged students “not to forget that you are loved by more people than you think.”

In his evening presentation to parents, Mr. Halligan shared some of what he considers the mistakes he and his wife made when it came to how they handled their son’s being bullied. He also spoke about ways parents can take a more active role in their children’s online lives and monitor for incidents of cyberbullying.

“Mr. Halligan’s presentation was as real and heartfelt as it could be,” said Northwest Catholic Principal Margaret Williamson. “You had to come away feeling sad for his family and yet moved to try to make a difference. We had an opportunity to remind students that they are loved and that they have the power to stop bullying and meanness.”

Kevin Dudley, ’15, said Mr. Halligan’s story motivated him and some of his friends to sit with students at lunch who otherwise sit alone, noting that students often don’t know what other students are going through.

“The presentation got people to wake up and get involved with other people,” he said.

Mia Christie, ’15, called the presentation one of the best she’s heard throughout her four years of high school. “He was very real and very straightforward about his experiences,” she said. “It really showed how one person can make a difference in the world.”

Mr. Halligan has been outspoken about the need for more education and prevention of bullying, cyberbullying and teen suicide throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America. He and his wife Kelly have appeared on several national TV programs, including “Primetime” with Diane Sawyer, “PBS Frontline” and “Oprah.”

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