Graduation day brings images of cheering and boisterous celebration for the outgoing high school class. It’s a day filled with anticipation and excitement for the graduates, their families and friends. For one student in the Class of 2019, though, the traditional applause and shouts of joy potentially could have kept him from taking the walk across the stage to get his diploma.
Jack Higgins, a senior at Putnam County, New York’s Carmel High School, has autism and is highly sensitive to loud noises. Higgins’ parents, Barbara and Pat, wanted their son to celebrate the milestone he worked so hard to attain, but they worried the long ceremony and loud noises would be too much for him. So, they decided to talk to school officials to see if something could be done to make it easier for Jack.
Principal Lou Riolo came up with an idea he felt would accommodate Jack and make sure the entire Class of 2019 would be on hand to get their diploma. During the ceremony, Riolo would ask the crowd to remain silent as Jack came up to receive his diploma.
“In our school, we have a banner as you enter all of our school buildings: # WhatsBestforKids,” Riolo told CNN. “It sounds corny but makes sense. But in this case, what was best for Jack?”
The rest of the staff quickly got on board with the principal’s idea and shared it with the Class of 2019. Riolo knew the students would cooperate with the special request, but had no idea the graduates would take it the gesture to another level.
When Riolo called Jack to the stage, Jack took his time and seemed hesitant. He held his fingers in his ears, anticipating the normal cheers and chants that come with the ceremony. As he moved forward, though, he noticed the absolute quiet of the full arena. People waved in support, but no one made a sound.
As Jack left the stage, the Carmel High School Class of 2019, rose in a silent standing ovation for their classmate. You can see the wave of students rise in respect for Jack and his accomplishments in the video Raney Day Media posted of the ceremony:
The ovation came directly from the graduating class, without any prompting from school officials.
“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 said.
“But as much as the students rose to the occasion, so did Jack. Since Jack is very limited verbally, how overwhelming was if for him with a large crowd and expectation that it would be loud? It was so brave of him to take that walk, which must have seemed like forever, and he did it with grace, class and strength.”
Congrats to Jack and all of the graduates at Carmel High!