New York high school student Jack Higgins was worried about stepping onto the stage at his graduation. He has autism and is extremely uncomfortable with loud noises — like the kind of cheering, whooping, and clapping you hear at most graduations.
Jack’s classmates knew that he didn’t like noise.
But they still wanted to honor him for the huge achievement of graduating from high school. So, when he approached the stage with his hands in his ears, Jack was greeted by a standing ovation — one that was completely silent.
The ovation was arranged beforehand by Jack’s parents who were concerned about how he would deal with the noise of the crowd during the graduation ceremony. However, they hoped that Jack would be able to participate. Therefore, they discussed the matter with one of his teachers at Carmel High.
The faculty at his high school arranged for the silent ovation to take place.
And they did it because of a reminder they have in their school building.
“In our school we have a banner as you enter all of our school buildings #WhatsBestforKids,” Lou Riolo, principal of Carmel High. “It sounds corny but makes sense. But in this case what was best for Jack?”
There was a concern the students would not cooperate, but the teachers emphasized the importance of supporting Jack as he accepted his diploma.
The place was for the audience to sit silently as he crossed the stage — or if they preferred, they could offer a soft golf clap, but they were asked not to clap loudly, cheer, or yell. Instead, to the faculty’s surprise, the students did one better. Instead of remaining silently seated, they surged to their feet in a tribute to Jack that still remained quiet.
“The students were amazing,” Riolo said.
“They are a class act and superseded expectations. For example, them rising to their feet after Jack received his diploma was them. It was not preplanned and no one told them to act like that. They felt compelled to show their support in that way. They made that amazing compassionate gesture on their own. I have been lucky and blessed to see some really remarkable things in my 31-year career but this so far has to be the most incredible.”
Riolo also praised Jack for having the strength to do something that may have been overwhelming for him.
He walked across the stage to receive his diploma supported by his brothers and his learning aide.
Jack’s parents were thrilled at the initial plan and deeply touched by the response of the students in giving their son such a kind and heartfelt tribute.
He’s been enrolled in special programs for students with cognitive, learning, or behavioral challenges at the school for the last eight years. His graduation was a triumph. Thanks to the kind students and faculty, he got the recognition he deserved.
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