'Ryan's Story' Presents Harsh Reality of Bullying and Suicide
With stoic faces and some silent tears, 6th and 7th graders in the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District listened to the heart-wrenching story of Ryan Halligan, a 13-year-old boy from Vermont who ultimately took his own life after years of being bullied and cyber-bullied. Since his death in 2003, his father, John, has made it his mission to share Ryan’s Story to educate students about the dangers of bullying and encourage them to harness the power they have within them to change their school environment for the better.
“The teen years are more challenging than ever, and bullying and suicide are on the rise —an increase that has been linked to social media and cell phone use,” Mr. Halligan noted.
With a slide show of Ryan, his family and friends, Mr. Halligan took students on a journey beginning with Ryan’s birth to the discovery of his developmental delays that required support in school. He spoke of his playful personality and the people who loved him most.
He described what he discovered on Ryan’s computer after his death and how he was able to track down and confront those who were at the root of Ryan’s bullying. He also shared how bullying and Ryan’s loss have affected his whole family, and what students can do to affect change.
“When you bully, you bully the entire family,” Mr. Halligan told his young audience. “There is a whole family behind that person. They come home upset, the parents get upset, the siblings get upset….In this case it was like someone had dropped a bomb in the middle of my entire family and my son is dead, and the rest of us are wounded for life.”
Mr. Halligan urged, “If there is anyone out there who feels like Ryan felt, I beg you to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed; don’t be ashamed. You’re not the only person feeling this way. You are not alone. But one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not ask for help.”
The assembly was part of the District’s continued efforts to reinforce mental health education and social and emotional literacy. Students asked thoughtful questions and shared some powerful observations with their peers at the conclusion of the presentation. To turn Mr. Halligan’s message into action, the Be the Change Club, advised Mr. John Andriaccio, extended a challenge to the student body to create a kinder, more nurturing school environment, which was featured as part of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Laura Seinfeld’s monthly video. The video was emailed to community members and was posted on the District website.
In memory of his son, Mr. Halligan spearheaded the Vermont Bully Prevention bill which was signed into law in May 2004, and led the passage of the law requiring mandatory suicide prevention education in public schools. For more about Ryan’s Story and for resources on dealing with bullying, social media and those struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, visit www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org.
Welcoming Mr. Halligan, center, are, from left, Oyster Bay High School Assistant Principal Ms. Lara Gonzalez, social workers Ms. Migdalia Rosario and Mr. Matthew Brown, and Oyster Bay High School Principal Ms. Sharon Lasher. He was also welcomed at James H. Vernon School by Principal Dr. Valerie Vacchio and social worker Ms. Nicole Silva.
Oyster Bay High School 7th grade students, left, and 6th graders, right, learn how bullying can result in suicide during a presentation of Ryan’s Story by Mr. John Halligan.
Halligan gets a hug from a 6th-grade student after sharing his son’s story.