When there is silence at graduation, it usually means one of two things. Either the school has enacted strict silent graduation rules where no one is supposed to cheer or applaud the graduates, or that particular graduate does not have any friends or family to cheer for him. For a few precious moments, the auditorium, in Putnam County, New York, where the Carmel High School graduation was held was silent. Why? Students and faculty agreed to “applaud” Jack Higgins, a graduate with autism, with silence to accommodate his needs. The moment itself is touching, and the story behind it is even more memorable
Preparing For The Big Day
As a family, the Higgins worked for months before graduation to prepare Jack for his big day. Although symptoms of autism can vary, Jack, like many other people on the autism spectrum, is very sensitive to crowds and loud noise. Since his parents knew that graduation would take place in a noisy crowd, they tried to think of a way to make him feel more comfortable. It was important to Jack’s parents, Pat and Barbar Higgins, that their son be able to experience graduation the traditional way.
Jack’s parents and his siblings tried to think of ways to accommodate his sensitivities to sound during the ceremony. His parents discussed their ideas with one of his teachers, and the school principal heard about their problem. The Carmel High School principal, Mr. Riolo, is the one who came up with the idea to have everyone in the crowd remain silent as Jack walked across the stage.
Students Surprise The Faculty
All of the staff members at Carmel High School were pleased with the idea of giving Jack a moment of silence as he walked across the stage, but there were still concerns. What about visitors who did not know they were supposed to be quiet? What about students who might make a loud noise simply to cause trouble? Despite all of the potential problems, the faculty members decided to push forward with the idea.
To the surprise of some faculty members, students welcomed the idea with open arms. Jack had attended Carmel High School for eight years in the school’s extended program that helps prepare teenagers with disabilities for the adult world. In that time, he had touched many hearts. He was a favorite face among his classmates, and everyone was eager to play a small part in making Jack’s graduation just as much of a special moment as everyone else’s. Students played a huge role in telling their family members about the silent graduation. With the blessing of the entire graduating class, Mr. Riolo moved forward with his plans.
Jack’s Big Moment
To help him cope with the crowd, Jack did not walk across the stage alone. Two of his brothers stood by his side, and the teacher who had given him one-on-one help all throughout his high school years also walked with him. Jack knew that thunderous applause followed the names of all the other students. As he walked across the stage, he even covered his ears in anticipation of the loud cheers, but he was shocked to hear no sound.
Instead of clapping, all of Jack’s classmates rose to their feet and gave him a silent standing ovation. Many audience members clapped in American Sign Language by waving their hands. The entire stadium remained silent until Jack had returned to his seat. They showed Jack just how much he was loved and appreciated. Jack was able to walk across the stage like every other graduate, and everyone in the stadium worked together to make receiving his diploma an enjoyable experience. This touching story shows that a little thoughtfulness and selflessness can go a long way.
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