Ryan Birmingham

Ryan Birmingham – Collier High School 1999-2001

“Everyone is so accepting, and everyone makes you feel comfortable,” said Ryan Birmingham. “Whatever you were into ‘worked’ at Collier.” Ryan attended Collier during his sophomore and junior years before returning to his home district for senior year and graduation. A self-described “preppy jock,” Ryan said that he had stayed within his own clique in public school and did not give others a chance. “I was very judgmental [when I came], but that all changed at Collier…It changed me because it was the norm for everyone to interact there.”

In addition to his social maturation during his Collier years, Ryan also discovered his vocation. Taking Agri- Science at Collier opened his eyes to a career that he has since pursued and at which he has excelled. Referring to his Agri-Science teacher, John Staggard, Ryan said, “Stag’s the one who got me going. He set the path for what I ended up doing later in life and I became good at it. Mr. Stag was awesome!” Along with Mr. Staggard, Ryan said that all the teachers and staff were so supportive and accepting. When asked what the best thing about Collier was, Ryan barely needed to think. “Not being told that I’m different or that my learning disability was going to hold me back,” reflected Ryan. “At Collier, I was spoken with instead of spoken at.” He also felt the individuality that so many students feel when they attend Collier. “The staff truly cared and wanted to help in any way they could and they basically changed my life,” he said. “Instead of being one in 100, I was one of theirs.”

After graduating from high school, Ryan chose to continue his study of Agri-Science and combine it with one of his other passions, golf. He attended turf school at Rutgers and started a landscaping company with a friend. At age 22, he bought out his partner to continue the landscaping company on his own and, by the age of 27, Ryan was doing commercial land maintenance, high-end estate landscaping, and snow management while overseeing 35 employees. During this time, Ryan also graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s in Turf Grass Science through an intensive condensed program. Ryan eventually sold his business and is currently the Assistant Superintendent of Grounds at Cape May National Golf Club. “I love being outside,” he said. “Being in an office environment just doesn’t work for me!”

Fifteen years later, Ryan still shares a strong bond with many of his Collier classmates who have remained very close friends and see one another every couple of weeks. Ryan says that they have all stayed in touch because, as they learned at Collier, they are all very accepting and supportive despite their different backgrounds and experiences. “It’s like we’re all going through this [life] together, and we all just ‘get’ one another.” They have even started a quasi-Alumni Association to maintain the Collier connection and help raise funds to support the current school program, as featured above.

Recalling how his family reacted when he first came to Collier and how much they appreciated it once he was here, Ryan had a message for parents. “[They] need to hear that your kid is gonna be OK [at Collier],” he emphasized. “They’re getting the help they need there.” Ryan also credits Collier with giving him the life skills he has needed to become successful in his career. “I wouldn’t have done the things I did if it hadn’t been for Collier,” he said. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and, without Collier, I would not have achieved any of the things that I have.”