WILKES-BARRE — John Halligan said his first presentation Monday at Hazleton Area High School “really hit home” with many students.
Scheduling conflicts necessitated changes in some appearance dates that were published last week.
Halligan, a nationally known speaker, talked to students, teacher and parents about his son, Ryan, who committed suicide in 2003.
Halligan will be in Luzerne County for three weeks, speaking to students at 16 high schools and to several adult audiences. The program, called Bullying and Suicide Prevention,” will include presentations in the evenings for parents and the public.
The program was conceived by county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who said the program is “costly,” but no taxpayers’ dollars are being used.
“I’d say the reaction today was wonderful; the students were very engaged,” Halligan, 50, said Monday. “Judging from their comments afterward, I would say I got through to a lot of them.”
Halligan said the students told him that the story of his son paralleled some of the students.
“A few kids came up to me and whispered that Ryan’s story was their story,” he said. “The difference was they are still here.”
Halligan said hearing Ryan’s story gave the students a different perspective on life.
“They realized that there are many people in their world who care about them and love them,” Halligan said. “Sometimes they get so caught up in their own world that they lose sight of those around them who truly care.”
Salavantis said she found the presentation very moving.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” she said.
Salavantis said Halligan gained much wisdom from his experience with his son, who endured the torment and ridicule associated with bullying before taking his own life.
After losing their son, Halligan and his family made it their life’s mission to educate others on bullying and to help encourage victims of bullying to seek assistance. More information about Halligan and his son’s story can be found at the website www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org.
Salavantis said the program is paid for with funding secured through various investigations that is earmarked for community programs. Several donations from several corporate partners, such as Mohegan Sun, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre Law & Library Association and others also helped pay for the three-week program.
Halligan said he visits about 200 high schools every year to speak to students and parents. According to the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office, there were five teen suicides in the county in 2012, three in 2011 and two in 2010.