- Jack Higgins was set to graduate from high school, but has a form of autism that makes him especially sensitive to loud sounds.
- The school’s principal worked with the parents and organized the students to ensure Higgins felt comfortable during his graduation walk.
- At the graduation, Higgins’ fellow students remained silent and used sign language to show their support.
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High school graduations are usually a time for roaring cheers and celebratory music, but at one New York school, that special moment was marked by complete silence. Hundreds of students at Carmel High School in Carmel, New York, remained silent in order to make Jack Higgins, a fellow classmate with autism who is hypersensitive to sound, feel comfortable.
In the video below, Higgins can be seen slowly walking up to the stage, his hands cautiously covering his ears. The graduates remain noiseless, then at the same moment Higgins takes his diploma, the students erupt from their chairs, and start emphatically shaking their hands – the sign language word for clapping.
Higgins’ father described the outpouring of support as, “a homerun.”
“We were unbelievably moved,” Higgins’ father told The Putnam Examiner. “I know myself and my wife were kind of crying leaving the graduation.”
According to the Examiner, Higgins’ parents reached out to the school’s principal, Lou Riolo, months before graduation, hoping to find some way to help their son comfortably walk up the stage to earn his diploma. The parents told the Examiner that Higgins lives with a form of autism that makes him incredibly sensitive to sound and can potentially lead to outbursts.
The point was personal for Riolo, who himself has a daughter with Down’s Syndrome, according to the Examiner, and understands the difficulties children with special needs often encounter. It was Riolo who led the charge, corralling the high schoolers and convincing them to stay silent. Though he was already hopeful, the resulting display of kindness exceeded his expectations.
“What ended up happening was a miracle,” Riolo told the Examiner. “It was a miracle because of everybody in that auditorium. They all took it upon themselves to make a difference.”
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