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Corinth — Losing a child is unbearable. How do their parents move on without them? How can they honor their child’s memory?
On October 7, 2003, John and Kelly Halligan were faced with this harsh reality when they lost their thirteen-year-old son Ryan to suicide. After Ryan’s death it was revealed that he was ridiculed and humiliated by his peers at school and on-line.
Some time later John Halligan was asked to speak about Ryan at a school in Vermont. Recalls Halligan, “a guidance counselor in Vermont asked me to talk about Ryan. I presented a slide show with various video clips and songs. I remember struggling with my words while I spoke.”
The presentation then led to a question and answer session. Halligan did not believe that he would leave such an impact on those who listened to him speak. “You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium.”
Over time he started to receive multiple emails complimenting him on his presentation on Ryan. Emails poured in by the bundles. Many filled with compliments on the actual presentation, and some were filled with stories from students apologizing for their involvement in the bullying of other students. Halligan initially thought that his first presentation was going to be his last.
“Multiple presentations weren’t planned at first. But it was an issue that I felt needed more coverage.” However, John found himself giving multiple presentations to various schools. With each presentation, word of its message and its popularity grew. After giving several presentations John decided to leave his job at IBM in 2009 and speak to students full time. For John each presentation is therapeutic.
“It is my way of keeping Ryan’s memory alive. If I can get through to these kids and even save a life then I feel accomplished.”
When asked about his favorite memory of Ryan, John could recall one father-son activity that they shared. “Ryan loved the outdoors. He loved camping. It was sort of our father-son tradition.”
He also recalls his favorite picture of Ryan from a family vacation. The picture shows Ryan in a pool. The expression on his face shows one of pure happiness and his love of life. But these fond memories also serve as warning signs. The last summer that Ryan was alive his father had planned another camping trip. However, Ryan did not seem interested.
“He said that he didn’t want to go. It surprised me since that was one of the things that he loved to do. I didn’t know it then, but looking back now I am fairly certain that that was one warning sign that something was not right. It wasn’t like Ryan to pass on an activity that he always enjoyed,” recalls John.
On Tuesday, November 1, John Halligan will be speaking at Corinth High School. It will be his third time giving this presentation. Says Halligan “since Ryan’s death, we have forgiven the kids who bullied him. It’s not about them. It’s about forgiving them for what they have done and spreading more awareness to an issue that deserves the utmost attention.”
Halligan hopes that his story format touches his audience. “Listen, I don’t have a magic wand in terms of getting my message across to each kid I speak to. I just do it in the best way I know how. Kids learn more from the story-format, rather than just beating facts over their heads. If I can grab the attention of an entire room, and even leave an impact on some students, then I know I have done Ryan justice.”
Since Ryan’s death, his parents have come to forgive those kids who bullied their son. “We’ve since had closure with all who were involved in bullying Ryan. We want kids to realize that this incident really isn’t about the kids who bullied Ryan. It’s more about being an example for these kids in terms of forgiveness,” says Halligan.
Ryan’s Story Presentation for Parents and Students has been given in more than 1,600 schools, and more than one million students have been in the audience throughout the United States, Canada and Columbia. Anyone interested in learning more about Ryan’s story are encouraged to visit www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org for more information.