John Halligan Tells His Son’s Story

Erika Riley, Managing Editor

On March 11, Ward Melville High School’s entire student body attended an emotional assembly regarding bullying. This powerful presentation was given by public speaker John Halligan, who currently travels around the United States speaking about his son, Ryan. In 2003, Ryan committed suicide at thirteen years old.

Ryan’s story revolved around bullying, which eventually led to depression. Ryan was bullied in school by one boy and his friends, but eventually the bullying moved online when a rumor about Ryan’s sexuality started to spread around. Cyber-bullying existed even in 2003, when the main means of online communication were instant messaging through programs like AOL Instant Messager (AIM). There was no Facebook, Twitter, or texting, yet the tale was one that could ring true with many today. Halligan emphasized that the kids were saying things they would never say in person, which is one of the ways that bullying has changed over the years—it is now more emotional and verbal when it used to be more physical, and would end at the close of the school day.

The assembly was definitely an eye-opener for the “bystanders” that Mr. Halligan constantly referred to. Bystanders are in a state of mind where they think that it’s not their place to say anything or do anything. Not saying anything is simply giving the oppressors their permission to continue oppressing others. While he did not place the full blame on any individuals that were involved in Ryan’s story, he did place some on himself.  He emphasized that there were many people who could have helped Ryan, but chose to sit it out and watch.

Many teachers discussed the assembly in their classes, or let the students have some time off second period before getting to work after the emotional power of the assembly. Both teachers and students were emotionally affected by the assembly.  Many teachers said they sympathized with Mr. Halligan’s statement that there is “Not a more terrible thing in the world than a parent losing their child.”

“I thought it was a very emotional and moving assembly,” said junior Laura Ryan. “It really got you thinking and was just enough to really get the point across.”

The point rang clear: bullying is a very serious issue and should not be taken lightly. Halligan said during his talk that he hopes we start to apologize to those we have hurt, especially those we have hurt without always realizing it.

“It really did make me want to apologize to anybody I was ever mean to when I was younger,” said Tess Duryea, a junior.

The assembly was about an hour and a half long, and thus second period repeated twice—once for the first floor students to attend the assembly and the second for the second floor students to attend—and made the other class periods shorter. John Halligan presented at Gelinas and Murphy Junior High Schools as well as at an evening assembly for parents of the school district.

The assembly was made possible through the generosity of Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra.  It is another great step that Three Village is taking to make the district more aware of the problem of bullying.