Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John Halligan Presentation

Today John Halligan gave three presentations to all of our students. My class schedule originally didn't allow me to go at all, but my principal was able to get me coverage for one of the presentations. Seeing as I teach about bullying, this was a no-brainer!

Mr. Halligan's presentation was unlike anything I have ever seen before. There were no gimmicks, no cheesy pep-talks. Halligan's weapon is his own personal experience and his pain, displayed through nothing other than raw emotion, over the suicide of his thirteen year old son due to bullying. This occurred back when cyberbullying was just really starting to be talked about, and when bullying laws weren't in consideration in a lot of states.

Halligan's message was unique because he was honest, choosing to tell things as they were and without any sugarcoating. Audience members could see pain on his face and hear hope in his voice. Admitting to wanting to kill the kid who was the main cyber-bullying culprit against his son, Halligan then recalls how living with that hate was no way for him to live his life. In meeting with the girl who was also a main bullying culprit, Halligan offers his own story of the difficulties of forgiveness and the hope that someday, bullying will end. That girl, Ashley, even appeared on national television with Halligan to talk about the incident and how it has affected her.

Halligan's efforts helped create the Vermont Bullying Prevention Bill, and he was successful in leading passage of another law requiring mandatory suicide prevention education in Vermont public schools. His presentation also focuses on the effects bullying had not only on Ryan, but on the rest of his family as well. Throughout the presentation tears were shed by both students and faculty, and the post-activity discussion in individual classrooms was hopefully another chance for students to decompress after the emotional presentation. With the new focus in Massachusetts on bullying due to the new bullying law, it's hoped that students will take this message and really work to change the culture of bullying that plagues adolescence.

You may view some video clips on Halligan's website from shows such as Oprah, Primetime with Diane Sawyer, and PBS Frontline. I will say that the clips do not tell the whole story, and do not do John Halligan justice. The power of his presentation cannot be captured in video clips.

During his presentation, Halligan offered to students that all it takes is one person to tell someone to stop bullying for a difference to be made. One person to take a stand and help someone in need; one person to become an ally; one bystander who chooses to take a risk in helping someone else. The middle school students who left the presentation today should all challenge themselves to be that one person. And if that can happen, then we're getting somewhere.

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