Ryan’s Story

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In memory of Ryan Patrick Halligan

1989 - 2003

Ryan's Story Presentation for Parents and Students

More than 1600 schools visited and more than 1 Million students reached throughout the United States,  Canada, Mexico and Columbia

I have been to Canada, Mexico, Columbia and almost every state in the US.  I am based in the NYC area with access to three major airports so that I can travel to virtually any part of the world.  My schedule for the Fall fills in very quickly every school year so please do not hesitate.  Please contact me for more information about my fees and how to book me.

johnhalligan@ryansstory.org

The dates underlined on the calendar are booked.  All other dates are available.

How This Started 

 I spoke to students about Ryan for the very first time at Mount Mansfield Union High School in May 2005.  Their student peer leadership team invited me that spring to be the keynote speaker for their "Respect Day”, mainly because I was the father who got the bullying prevention law passed in Vermont. I reluctantly agreed and then stressed out during the weeks leading up to this day. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say to these students. I decided just to tell them Ryan's life and then let them ask me questions at the end.

 

The response that very first time was overwhelming. Many eyes welled up with tears as I spoke. As I looked throughout the audience, I could sense they were connecting with the story.  And when I paused between sentences, you could have heard a pin drop. When it was over, they gave me a standing ovation and several students came up to shake my hand or even give me a hug. I had never experienced anything like this before and sensed something amazing happened that morning. Sure enough, and by word of mouth and through social media, other Vermont schools learned about this fantastic presentation and urged me to come to their school to do the same thing.

 

From visiting over 1700 school since that very first time, I received tens of thousands of emails and hand-written letters from students expressing how much this presentation affected them. They always tell me that Ryan's story changed their life for the better. Many confessed they were the bully and even apologized to their victim. Many targets shared with me they gained the courage to get help from the adults. Countless others expressed they will no longer be a bystander to bullying.

 

Why This Has Become One of the Most Effective Programs

 

I realized early on the best way to deal with the enormous pain of losing my son Ryan was to use his life story to inspire positive change in schools throughout Vermont and the rest of the country.  Yes, I am the one who spearheaded the Vermont Bullying Prevention Law, but soon after its implementation, it became apparent to me that the law was not the solution.  And at this point, every state in the country now has a bullying prevention law in place too, but we still have a national epidemic of children feeling isolated by use of technology to carry out bullying behavior.  The tragic result has been continued emotional distress among targets.  Many children are self-harming too, and some are even completing suicide as a response.

 

The solution to this problem is not a law, but finding a way to reach and change the heart and mind of a student.   I believe the best way to reach a student is from their heart to their mind, because developmentally, their limbic (emotional) part of the brain is mostly in charge.  (The frontal lobe takes charge later in life.) There is no better way to learn the valuable lessons of suicide and bullying prevention than through an emotional real-life story told directly by the father of Ryan Halligan.  However, this approach assumes enormous responsibility to do it in a healthy and helpful way.  I have accomplished this level of expertise since visiting over thirteen hundred schools and giving this presentation nearly twenty-six hundred times.  Based on feedback from mental health professionals over the years, I have perfected the delivery and obtained consistent positive results no matter which school I visit.

 

The Student Presentation Details

 

My son’s life story has an effect on students like no other presentation.  It is a true story that inspires them to make positive changes in their lives towards reducing bullying, cyber bullying and preventing teen suicides.  Students are reached in a deep and profound way to examine their lives and how they treat others. Bystanders are inspired to stand no longer by and let others get bullied at school or online. There is a very powerful lesson about forgiveness imparted too.  They will leave this presentation feeling loved, hopeful and changed.

 

This presentation does not get into the specifics of the suicide nor does it express an overly simple connection between bullying and suicide.  I always make the point that I believe my son died of an illness called depression that tragically went undetected and untreated. Bullying was a contributing factor, but there was clearly an underlying mental health issue here that made him more susceptible. Clearly not every child who is bullied becomes suicidal. I do believe some kids are much more sensitive than others and to a point that makes them much more vulnerable to carrying out an extreme response to bullying.  Yes, we should address the bullying behavior, but we must also address resiliency building and coping skills in those prone to be a target. I always emphasize to students during the Q&A that if you ever feel suicidal or have a friend you know suicidal, please immediately seek help from an adult.   I never use the word “Bullycide” in this presentation for reasons explained in the story at the home page.

 

I have received numerous compliments from school psychologists in how well I address bullying, depression, coping skills and the delicate intersection of these issues.  I have also received an endorsement from a leading expert in the field of post student suicide intervention and safe messaging for schools, Joanne L. Harpel, MPhil, J.D., President, Coping After Suicide; President and CEO, Rethink The Conversation.

 

After doing this presentation over 3500 times and reaching an audience well over 1 million, not once has there been a negative situation created in response to my program.  The exact opposite always occurs. And often students who were not previously a concern to the adults because they hid their feelings, took my message to heart that they are loved and stepped into a counselor's office for the very first time and asked for help.  I have countless emails from students, parents, educators and therapists thanking me for inspiring students to open up and seek help.  

 

The student presentation is age appropriate for grades 5 through 12.  The presentation is 75 minutes or about two consecutive class periods. It takes 45 minutes to tell the story. The students are then given a brief stand and stretch moment.  For the remaining time, they are allowed to ask me questions.  This is a critical part of the presentation in which issues are clarified, and paramount lessons are processed together.  

 

Before the presentation, some schools worried about the length, but all said afterward that they never had a guest speaker before capture and hold their students' attention so well for the entire time.  I have often been told, "You could have heard a pin drop in between sentences."  However, if your school can not accommodate 75 minutes long presentation, I can deliver one in 60 minutes and still address most of the key points which are typically drawn out during the Q&A in the 75-minute format. The material is sent well ahead of the presentation to help you prepare and post process the presentation with your students.   You can review the documents by clicking on the links at the very bottom of this page.

 

The Parent Presentation Option

 

I also offer a parent evening presentation titled "IF I COULD HAVE A DO-OVER” A Father’s Hard-Earned Lessons About Cyberbullying, Depression, and Suicide in which I step the audience through the lessons learned from our tragedy. Additionally, I update this presentation every school year to address the latest social media problems facing preteens and teens.  Handouts are provided with recommendations for parents regarding technology use by adolescents.  Parents will get a very clear message that they need to step up and take responsibility for how their child uses technology and interacts with their peers in person and on-line.  A parent should not expect the school to solve all of these problems for them.

 

References/Feedback

 

Just a few examples of over a thousand received over the years.  I have several boxes of typed and handwritten letters from students  I read and saved every one of them. Some more can be found at the links below.

 

We only even spoke personally one time, and it was when you came to speak to my class when I was in middle school. I think I was in 7th grade, well now I'm in 11th grade and Ryan's story has still stuck with me. I'm writing an article in my gifted class of somebody I feel is a hero and I picked you. Not only for what you went through but for continuing to pass on the message of suicide prevention and how important it is. I was going through a rough time when I listened to you speak, I was staying up until odd hours of the morning trying to talk my friend out of suicide almost every night. I started to self-harm also, but I've stopped. I really do see you as a hero. After you spoke at the school I came up to you at the end to thank you personally, I hope kids like me are the reason you keep doing this because that was almost 5 years ago and your words still stick in my head.   

 

- from a student

 

Hi! My name is Gabrielle. Mr. Halligan came to my school in  2009. I was in sixth grade and had just started a new school in September. Almost everyone was extremely mean to me, but hearing Ryan's story changed my outlook on life. I stopped considering suicide. Thank You! I am now going to be starting tenth grade in two weeks. My life has gotten much better and I now have friends. I still think about Ryan's story and it really touches my heart. I cannot remember if I sent an email in 2009 but I wanted to make sure I thanked you.

 

 

Hello Mr. Halligan,  In 2009, you visited my school in Youngsville, Pennsylvania and gave your presentation. Recently, a friend and I were speaking about the issue of bullying and your presentation was brought up. I asked my friend if she remembered your presentation and without hesitation she recalled your and your son's names. We continued to talk about how moving your presentation was and how it will forever stick with us.  After our conversation, I revisited your website. It warmed my heart to see that you continue to travel to schools and tell Ryan's story and promote kindness. So, I would like to say thank you for the work that you do, and that you continue to do so. It is inspiring in more ways than I could say.  

 

 

Several days ago I had the pleasure to hear your presentation, as I am a staff member at Long Valley Middle School  New Jersey.  I have been teaching since the fall of 1967, so I have been subjected to far more useless assemblies than I care to remember! Honestly, your program is positively the best presentation for students that I have ever heard.  For once, it was something that was real and tangible.  Unless students are emotionally hooked into what is being delivered, they walk away unaffected.  Yours, however, resonated and was authentic.

 

 

Hi John, I'm a school counselor at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland, NY. Thank you for your presentation.   I think one of my sixth graders captured it best:  "I was moved by it.  It made me think.  I expected someone to come and tell us to stop bullying.  This was different.  It made me think.  It changed me."  

 

 

2-18-16

Hello Mr. And Mrs. Halligan,

My name is Danielle and I live in New Jersey. Mr. Halligan visited my middle school, H.B.Whitehorne, several years ago. As I have grown older, the impact of his presentation has touched my life.

This is my first year of college and I've been having a hard time transitioning to living away from home. Everyday I tell myself, "you can always turn an ink blot into a butterfly", and that saying keeps me going. With any situation I find myself in, I repeat this saying in my head and it immensely helps me and puts my situation into perspective. Hearing your story and motivation truly inspires me to persevere and make the world a better place.

I think that you are one of the most powerful, motivational voices in the world. Your story is one that everyone must hear and it has changed my outlook on life. I am so thankful for you and your dedication to making this place a better world.

Sincerely,

Danielle

 

Additional Comments From a Student Survey

 

I agree with you when you said apology and forgiveness is key to be happy and move on.

This presentation made me realize how much I am loved.

It made me feel like I do need to stand up for family and friends and be the kind person I can be to all of those people.

Someday I will build you a time machine.

I have two little brothers that mean everything to me and if I ever lost them in that way I would be devastated.

I admire the presenter’s courage to stand up in front of the school and speak about his son.

Bullying shouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the world.

You inspire me to make a difference.

Ryan’s story has really touched me and I think it will help me be a better person.

I would tell him how powerful his speech was and that it will always be close to my heart and I will always remember it.

The speech has changed me and motivated me to become a better person.

He inspired me a lot.

You are doing a great job and have completely changed me and the way I acted.

I loved the presentation. It really made me think of how I treat others.

Thank you for devoting your life to this issue.

I am sorry for your loss, but don’t give up because you are doing a great thing to prevent bullying.

After the presentation, I realized how important respect for everyone is.

 

 

Thank you for having the courage to tell this story over and over again.  I can’t imagine how hard it is to constantly open up and share this unbearable pain.  My son asked me to go to your lecture last night, I am embarrassed to say that like every busy parent, I ignored the emails inviting us to this presentation.  Having my son who is in the throes of navigating middle school tell me to go, made me get in my car after a long, busy day to sit and listen.  Wow, was it worth it.  I learned quite a bit about how I need to communicate with my son and have this on-going conversation about how to treat others.  

 

Tell your next audience of kids to encourage their parents to attend.  Just like peer pressure, children can often persuade their parents to take action better than a slew of emails.  

 

Thank you for dedicating your life to saving our kids lives.  I have no doubt you are preventing many kids from hurting themselves and others.

 

- a parent who attended the parent presentation

Pleaase Click Here to See More Student Dedications

Additional Information and References

Why telling a story is the most powerful way to activate the brain.
Overview of Student Presentation
Overview of Parent Presentation
Reference Letters
Student Letters
Conference Attendee Comments
Parent Comments
Additional Parent Comments
Student Comments
Letter from Mineola, NY PTA Council
Letter from a Health Educator. Port Washington, NY
Student Comments from a School in Orlando
Parent Evaluations of Evening Presentation

Took Kit of Documents For Schools

Documents for Student Presentations Scheduled
Documents for Student and Parent Presentations Scheduled

Schools Visited

Sorted by School Year
Sorted by School
Sorted by City
Sorted by State

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