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Students walk to remember ‘Cali’
Ryan O’Neil was a well-liked student on campus. He came to Quinnipiac to earn his masters as a physician’s assistant. Through his journey on campus, he touched and impacted all of his friends’ lives.
O’Neil, who hailed from Covina, Calif., became known as ‘Cali’ to many on campus. On March 22, 2004, O’Neil., who suffered from depresssion, committed suicide in an off-campus residence. This past Saturday, 49 members of the Quinnipiac community gathered in Westport, Conn., to walk in memory of Cali in the “Out of the Darkness” walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“It was [Ryan’s] wish to inform people about depression and to teach people that it is a real illness, a real condition that people suffer from. The more awareness we spread, the stronger his message gets out to the community and the world,” senior Stephanie Benedict said. Their walk was successful, raising $2,793.
Board members of the Entry Level Masters in Physician’s Assistant (ELMPA) club came up with the idea to walk in remembrance of O’Neil. They spread the word through email to all of the ELMPA members and by word of mouth. Stephanie Langford, a member of the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) said they sold socks for $2 to raise money for the walk. The ELMPA also sold t-shirts (pictured above) as an additional fund raiser.
Participants in the walk hoped to spread awareness about depression. “We need to get word out there that asking for help is not a bad thing, depression is not something you should be ashamed of and we need to promote suicide prevention,” Langford said. “People need to know that there are individuals who care and want to help and that they’re not alone in fighting this disease.”
Due to Cali’s enduring influence on the people he came in contact with, many felt that participating in the walk was the least they could do to pay tribute to his memory. “I want to honor and thank him for everything he has done for me,” senior Ariane Nievera said.
ELMPA also had a Mental Health Awareness table on Oct. 21, with information about reaching out, acting, and being a friend.
Cali’s memory still lives on in all those he inspired throughout the campus. Sometimes it is the little things you remember. “Cali and I would talk for hours on end. He always called me ‘Step-on-me’,” Langford said.
Benedict remembers his love for music. “If he wasn’t belting out tunes, he was using a friend’s guitar and improvising a ‘Cali original.’ He had this huge belly laugh that was contagious and he was known for his rib crushing hugs.”
To those who did not get the privilege to know O’Neil, Langford wants the campus to remember him as “a rugby player, a hard worker, a dedicated son, friend, and nephew, a free spirit, a loving heart, an inspiration to so many, but most of all the most faith filled that I’ve ever known, he was a fighter.”
Benedict said, “I want Cali to be remembered for his charisma, smarts, sense of humor, heart, passion, open-mindedness, and his genuine spirit.
Dr. Michelle Geremia, professor of biology and director of the PA program, wants O’Neil to be remembered as “an outstanding man with an infectious personality who always reached out to others in need before himself.”
Friends of Cali remember everything he has taught him and continue to take his advice. They feel that they learned to grasp onto everything you have here on earth. “Just take your time to notice everything, it’s all a gift. Also, put all your heart into friendships and family. You’re going to need them just as much as they need you. Recognize that. Embrace it,” Benedict said. “Let it shape who you are and help you become aware of who you want to be. Get there. Make mistakes, take risks, and just go for it.”
Nievera recalled one thing Ryan told her that has always stuck in her mind, and said it is something she will never forget. “Do your best and leave what you can’t control to the dude upstairs.”