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Ian Hockley discusses hope, inclusion and acceptance at Sacred Heart University

September 26, 2018

FAIRFIELD - If Ian Hockley’s message was to never take your happiness for granted, it resonated through a crowd of 250 students Wednesday at Sacred Heart University.

Hockley, the father of a 6-year-old boy named Dylan who was slain in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, captivated students during a mid-afternoon presentation about transforming loss into purpose, by recounting each moment of that terrible day.

“After the chaos of reuniting hundreds of families with their children, we were surrounded by the police and the clergy, and still no one knew what was going on,” Hockley told the hushed, standing-room-only crowd. “By 3 p.m. the governor had no choice but to tell those of us who were gathered that the person we were waiting for was dead.”

Recounting the day 26 first-graders and educators were slain by a gunman at Sandy Hook School was only the start of Hockley’s presentation, but it was the most poignant part, students said.

“You have to be really grateful for your friends and family all the time because you never know when something is going to be taken from you at any moment,” said Paige Figueiredo, 19, a business major from Rhode Island. “You never know when you are going to get that shock that just changes your whole life.”

Fellow student Matt Scarry agreed.

“Don’t take any day for granted and be grateful for what you have,” said Scarry, 19, from Garden City, N.Y. “Because at any second, you can lose it all.”

Hockley devoted most of his hour-long presentation to describing the hope and the growth of the foundation he helped launch in his son’s memory, Dylan’s Wings of Change - a charity that offers programs to help children with autism and related conditions integrate more fully into everyday life.

“With all his challenges, he was starting to understand he was missing out on things,” Hockley said of his son, who had autism. “But just that little bit of extra help is all he needed.”

Hockley described his son as a boy whose passion was happiness, who was fascinated by the moon that changed shape each night, and who was fearful of the wind he could feel but not see.

“Dylan needed a wingman all of the time,” said Hockley, whose wife, Nicole, co-founded Newtown-based gun violence prevention group Sandy Hook Promise. “But all of us need a wingman some of the time.”

Dylan’s Wings of Change helps schools, sports clubs and dance studios start peer-led social and emotional learning support groups to encourage compassion, empathy and inclusion, so that children of all development levels feel connected to their communities.

“Acceptance is the first step toward the goal of inclusion, and when you have inclusion, wonderful things happen,” Hockley said.

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