The worst day of in the life of John Halligan and his family: Oct. 7, 2003.
“Life would never be the same,” he tells the Xavier freshmen and transfer students gathered in the gym for a Monday morning presentation that brings out a range of emotions. He relays his tragic experience as a father whose 13-year-old son Ryan took his own life in 2003 after incessant bullying by peers since the fifth grade, both in school and online. “My son is dead, and the rest of the family is wounded for life,” Halligan said.
On Monday night Halligan is presenting to Xavier and Mercy parents from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Mercy auditorium. Parents of Xavier students in any grade are encouraged to attend. As he says, he will make it worthwhile. For more of the story, visit ryanpatrickhalligan.org.
Halligan travels all over making these presentations. It is easier to understand why he does this. This will stick in the head of those in the room, maybe even prevent another tragedy. It may be much more difficult to understand how he does this, constantly reliving the worst day of his life.
“It is therapeutic for me … continues to be,” Halligan said. “The fact that students still respond in a positive way, and it means something to them, gives it meaning for me, too. That’s why I keep doing it.”
As Xavier students were dismissed back to class, they are told they can approach Halligan, thank him, and many do just that.
Halligan is back out doing his important work, but like so many things, COVID shut this down in March 2020, and it has taken until this school year to really get back on the road.
“COVID forced me to take a break from this, and I have to tell you it was hard,” Halligan said. “It was hard not feeling like I was accomplishing something every day. I’m usually at a school every day.”
Xavier Dean of Students Nick Cerreta also invoked the word COVID when he was talking to the students after the Halligan presentation. He said he has heard that students have been out of school so long, at various times in the past 18 months, that maybe they don’t know how to act. As he said, “I don’t care if you’ve been out of school for 10 years. That doesn’t change the fact that you should know how to treat people. Do not mistreat people. Hopefully today makes you wiser, more compassionate, more loving as you move through life.”
As Cerreta said, “It is my job and that of the faculty and staff here to make you feel safe, comfortable and cared for. … that will always be maintained here.” Therefore Xavier has a zero tolerance policy on bullying and mistreatment of others. “That will never change,” Cerreta said.