How I Changed for the Better | Teen Ink

How I Changed for the Better MAG

September 28, 2011
By Jonathan Dow BRONZE, Cumberland, Rhode Island
Jonathan Dow BRONZE, Cumberland, Rhode Island
3 articles 0 photos 1 comment

This is going to be a waste of time, I thought as I descended the gray stairs to the gym. My friends surrounded me, filling the air with jokes and laughter. We were headed to the gymnasium for a bullying seminar that would last two periods. 150 minutes. I am not one to question missing class for a school-organized event, but today I would be missing study hall. Unfinished homework hung over me like an unstable roof about to collapse. I had a biology test and a few ignored assignments from last night, and the good student inside me ached when I heard I would miss that free period.

But it wasn't just the urgency of unfinished school work that made me reluctant to attend this assembly; the topic made me uneasy too. We were all a little on edge when we heard from our parents that some serious subjects would be discussed today, things that weren't discussed openly in teenagers' lives, things that rarely crossed our minds. A speaker was going to tell us the story of his son who committed suicide after being bullied. His name was John Halligan.

I sat near the front with my friends. Mr. Halligan began by introducing us to his son, Ryan, showing us a slide show with photos of a dark-haired boy as a toddler, a child, and then a teen. We watched as he slowly transformed from a happy kid to a slightly awkward teenager. He had a strange smile – like a mask that hid his pain. Mr. Halligan began telling us about his family, mostly his son. He told us of Ryan's early developmental problems, the bullying due to his slow learning, and his advice to his son.

Mr. Halligan's voice varied, but was always filled with emotion. First it was full of affection as he spoke of Ryan as a child, then pain as he described Ryan's bullying and suicide, and then anger as he described the boy who bullied his son. He told us that Ryan had stood up to the bully, and the torment at school had stopped – for a while. He spoke of how Ryan had befriended the bully, sharing personal details with him. And how, after that, the bullying behavior reignited.

All the while, I stared down at my running shoes, memorizing every scratch and scuff. Gone were thoughts of homework, replaced with concern and a slight sense of guilt. I too have teased and humiliated someone many times. If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that you have never done anything to put another person down, I don't believe you.

During these profound 150 minutes of my life, I thought over every nasty thing I had ever done that affected another person. Mr. Halligan spoke of how the bully spread a horrible rumor about Ryan. I remembered every rumor that had escaped my mouth. I thought of every sly comment I had made, every joke that put someone in a negative light.

Mr. Halligan told us that no one had stood up for Ryan; bystanders had abandoned him. I desperately wanted to believe that I would have stood up for his son, that I wouldn't have been another person in the faceless crowd who had just watched. But I already knew the truth, though my conscience was too afraid to admit it.

Mr. Halligan continued, telling us about a girl Ryan had been chatting with online, whom Ryan thought he had a relationship with, a special bond. She later told him that she was just joking around and that she and her friends had laughed at his responses. He told us that his daughter found Ryan dead on October 7, 2003, and how his world was shattered.

He ended by saying that since Ryan's death, he has been visiting schools to share his story. He spoke of how he had received many supportive e-mails from students and parents. He explained that each time he heard that Ryan's story had changed someone, it helped heal the hole in his heart.

I can still remember that moment as if I had just experienced it. The gym was filled with students but was totally silent, which eerily reminded me of the thousands of white tombstones and the stillness at Arlington National Cemetery which I had just visited. Some students were crying, some watched intently, and some shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

I believe that those 150 minutes changed me. I realized that what I once considered meaningless jokes could be a fatal poison for the targets of that teasing. I was just an average teenager who used humor to get people to notice me. But I believe that I have now been changed for the better.

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This article has 32 comments.

on Mar. 24 2018 at 2:33 pm
CatNovelist GOLD, Berkeley, California
10 articles 1 photo 9 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you can quit writing, then quit. If you can't quit, you're a writer."

This is wonderful. I love it.

on Mar. 15 2017 at 9:22 am
eshaansoman SILVER, Hillsborough, New Jersey
8 articles 0 photos 30 comments
Amazingly touching story! I hope people really learn from this piece about the harmful effects of bullying.

on Mar. 31 2016 at 1:07 pm
Brendan1530 BRONZE, Grandville, Michigan
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
really good story! i hope this story helped someone

on Mar. 17 2015 at 2:53 pm
MadisonHudson BRONZE, Paragould, Arkansas
4 articles 0 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Life is like a box of Chocolates. You never now what your going to get."

This was really inspiring. I now I have some nasty things about other people and after reading this I am going to get a new perspective and change the wrong i have did to right. This was amazing. Great Job!

xtina BRONZE said...
on Apr. 24 2014 at 8:04 pm
xtina BRONZE, Bridgeport, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
This was powerful. 

rheame said...
on Jul. 22 2013 at 11:44 am
rheame, Anand, Other
0 articles 0 photos 64 comments

Favorite Quote:
turn a mess into a lesson

a test into testimony

a trial into triumph
and a victim into champion

wow, really touching and inspiring :)

bethrose said...
on Jul. 19 2013 at 7:35 pm
I'm a college sopmore. I've been bullied for a semster by a roommate. The more we educate, the better chances are to reduce bullying. I was bullied all throughout elementary school called names like: retard, stupid, etc. because of my learning disability and autism spectrum disorder. I was bullied in college for my autism spectrum disorder. I am an advocate. Thank you for explaining that people with disabilities can be bullied too.

on Jun. 13 2013 at 12:31 pm
McDevitt BRONZE, Greentown, Pennsylvania
1 article 0 photos 13 comments
This story is realy intresting, its not many that can find themselves in just one seminor. Some people would watch and cowar away and not take good advice to deal with bullying. I dealt with bullying for some time also, i was a huge victim. People would call me names under their breath, and throw things of all sorts at me. I remeber when i was about to  stand up in front of the class and give a speech, and the teacher wasnt looking so everyone threw things at me and i ran out of the class. I talked to people and i was fine after that. I see your strong as well. Great story!!!

on May. 15 2013 at 5:21 pm
fictitious-quandary GOLD, Orlando, Florida
18 articles 5 photos 83 comments

Favorite Quote:
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right"
- Henry Ford

 Great job. I enjoyed learning how you made a life realization due to the presentation. I too have found myself at a loss for words on how to describe some of my negative actions, however, if we grow from these things then all is well in the world. Congrats :)

on Apr. 10 2013 at 6:35 pm
TaylorWintry DIAMOND, Carrollton, Texas
72 articles 0 photos 860 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Never fear shadows. They simply mean there's a light shining somewhere nearby." - Unknown

So meaningful! I really liked how you included thought, opinion, and first person, even though it holds a true story. I think you could do a bit more with your word choice; I felt myself saying that you could do "bigger" words... (: Great job, on the other hand. I really did like your story.

Plume BRONZE said...
on Jan. 20 2013 at 12:37 pm
Plume BRONZE, Milano, Other
2 articles 0 photos 31 comments
this is wonderful !!! i love it ! please check out my work !

Monaz^.^ said...
on May. 13 2012 at 9:40 am
really good story!!! keep writing

Daren said...
on Apr. 20 2012 at 8:18 pm
This essay is so good! It voices a vital issue (bullying) and brings in the a side that isn't usually shown (the bully). Keep writing!

AbigFan said...
on Apr. 20 2012 at 6:00 pm
This essay was so good! Keep writing!!!

Daren said...
on Apr. 20 2012 at 5:57 pm
This essay is so good! Not only does it contain a vital message, it is expressed in an engaging manner that keeps the reader interested throughout. Also the story of bullying is told from a different side: from the bully. 5 out of 5 stars. Your transformation seems truly sincere and pretty amazing!

on Apr. 20 2012 at 5:50 pm
Jonathan Dow BRONZE, Cumberland, Rhode Island
3 articles 0 photos 1 comment
Thanks for asking, I'd be glad for you to use my essay. 

britt101 said...
on Apr. 19 2012 at 10:12 am
britt101, Clanton, Alabama
0 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
i can do all things through him who strengthens me

by the way this article so far i think is the best i have read about so yea its amazing how many people can bully and not get in trouble but when u stand up for yourself you get in trouble well u r an amzing author i think that this article kinda fits in with me because my school has done the same and thank you alot relly>\


britt101 said...
on Apr. 19 2012 at 10:08 am
britt101, Clanton, Alabama
0 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
i can do all things through him who strengthens me

hey i was just wondering if i could use this in an assembly that my school does because the story u told will get the attention of people and u r an amazing writer i think you can go on and write poems for a while


Dynamo DIAMOND said...
on Apr. 12 2012 at 2:33 pm
Dynamo DIAMOND, Lahore, Other
54 articles 0 photos 64 comments

Favorite Quote:
I used to think falling in love would be personal. But it's all a big public show.

yeah, you suredly did a great job of describing it up

GLEEfannn212 said...
on Nov. 4 2011 at 6:58 pm
i looooovvve this... one thing was this named after the Wicked song or like inspired from it haha i say the title and thougght it was about the musical