More than 100 students, professors and Jesuits crammed into the Egan Chapel last Tuesday to attend an event called Project Halo. Some went because their professor offered extra credit; others attended because they wanted to show their support for their friend Mike Cicirelli ’10, who was hosting the event.

Few attendees knew what would actually transpire during the event, which Residence Life sponsored, but all were excited when, at 8 p.m., Cicirelli took the floor.

Halo, we all found out, was a presentation with a mission. It started as Cicirelli told us about the pain that was his life when he suffered through high school. When recalling horrible experiences in high school, many of us may think back to that time we couldn’t get a date for the junior prom or the day we failed an important test.

But for Cicirelli, horror came at a certain time every single day, when three bullies would grab him, hold him down and beat the living daylights out of him.

They broke his ribs. They damaged his spine. They made him bleed internally. They caused him physical damage that was so intense that he will suffer from it for the rest of his life. And they did it all for one simple reason: Cicirelli is gay.

Even though he grew up in a typical suburban town in Ohio, replete with tree-lined streets, sidewalks and a high school football team, Cicirelli was the victim of the type of hate that we never suppose exists right under our noses. These three monsters, these homophobic jerks to whom Cicirelli had never done anything, saw themselves as crusaders with the mission to give Cicirelli what he “deserved” because he was gay, and they almost succeeded. Mike almost died.

As Cicirelli wrapped up his talk, we saw what hate and bigotry almost took away as slides rolled by picturing him with those he loved, smiling with friends at a townhouse, kissing his mom on her birthday. This wonderful young man, this loving human being, was almost killed because he was different. If it happened in Everytown, USA, in the 21st century, how many times in other towns is this happening right now?

Project Halo showed that hate is real. It’s all around us, whether it is overt – the way Cicirelli’s was – or whether it is latent, in a crowd of people who are detached from the differences that surround them.

As Cicirelli finished and the lights dimmed, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Some of us have never known what it is like to be different, and what it’s like to be truly alone. After that night, we learned why it is so important to be supportive of the differences that are not always prevalent at Fairfield.

I left with a sense of purpose, and I hope that all those who attended did too. As Cicirelli said, we’re all angels; we all have the power to give those around us love and to stop hate.

What will you do? Will you, an angel, hide your wings in the wake of hate and fear? Or will you raise them high and, following in the steps of St. Ignatius Loyola, “go set the world aflame” by showing love for all?

The choice is yours. For me, I’ll choose love over hate, and hope over fear.

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