Halligan to speak at FDA on dangers of bullying

Published 5:19 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2016

John Halligan has a sad story to tell, but it’s not compassion and not sorrow he’s looking to evoke from Fort Dale Academy students Monday.

On October 7, 2003, Halligan’s son, Ryan, committed suicide at the age of 13.

As a middle school student in Essex Junction, Vermont, Ryan was a frequent target of bulling both at school and online, even before the birth of social media networks.

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In the wake of his son’s death, John Halligan has dedicated his life to visit as many schools as possible to share Ryan’s story.  On Aug. 29, that mission will bring him to Fort Dale Academy for a pair of presentations.

One will be hosted for students in grades 5-12 at 1 p.m., and another will follow for parents at 6:30 p.m.  Both presentations will be held in Fort Dale’s gym.

Fort Dale Academy headmaster David Brantley said that it was Halligan himself who approached the school about the program. After checking his references and reviews of the presentation, Brantley thought it would prove beneficial not only to the community’s students, but parents, as well.

“I think Mr. Halligan’s presentation will be extremely helpful for our students to hear,” Brantley said.

“They need to be reminded that what they say and how they act toward a person can have lifelong consequences.  The use of social media by young people is something that has far-reaching effects.  This program is an effort to impact upon them the potential consequences of their misuse of social media.”

“I believe the program that night for parents is of equal importance.  Parents many times are naïve about what is going on with their children and their use of cell phones and computers.  This program will be enlightening and may bring about some changes that could be life-saving.”

But perhaps Halligan’s greatest message is one of hope—a message aimed directly at students dealing with bullying issues of their own.

“I am convinced that there is no greater human pain than for a parent to lose a child,” Halligan said in a YouTube video posted to a memorial website in Ryan’s name.

“All of you are loved beyond belief.  Trust me on this one.  Don’t ever believe for a second that you don’t matter—that no one would miss you if you were gone. You are loved beyond belief.”

Also in memory of his son, Halligan spearheaded the Vermont Bully Prevention bill (Act 117), which was signed into law in May 2004, which called for each Vermont public and approved independent school to adopt and implement a comprehensive plan for responding to student misbehavior that constituted harassment, bullying and hazing.

He also led the passage of Act 114, a law pertaining to mandatory suicide prevention education in public schools in April 2006.

For more than a decade, Halligan and his wife, Kelly, have been outspoken about the need for more education and prevention of bullying, cyber-bullying and teen suicide not only in Vermont but throughout the U.S., Canada and Latin America.

To that end, the couple has appeared on numerous national TV programs, including Oprah, Primetime with Diane Sawyer and PBS Frontline.

Halligan’s message is meant not only for victims or parents, but also for witnesses of bullying.

“Don’t be a bystander,” Halligan said. “Be an upstander.”