No One Cheered at This Student's Graduation and It Was Beautiful

Students honored their peer with quiet praise

Aug 8, 2019

In most circumstances, a high school graduate who walks across the stage to a silent crowd is a shocking act of disrespect. For Jack Higgins, however, it was a beautiful moment, a time when he and his classmates could celebrate all his hard work over the years.

21-year-old Jack has severe autism and a strong sensitivity to noise - which is why when he walked across the stage, he covered his ears to protect himself from the echoing clapping he expected. Thanks to his classmates, however, he could fully take in his moment in complete silence.

Though they dreamt of seeing their son collect his high school diploma, Jack’s family was concerned that he’d have a hard time during the packed event and would struggle to cope with the noise.

"He has a lot of sensory issues, noise being one of them," Barbara Higgins said.

Because of this, Barbara took extra measures to make sure school leaders were informed of his struggles and could find a way to make him feel comfortable. Before the ceremony, she met with Carmel High School principal, Lou Riolo, who offered an idea; when it was Jack’s time to walk across the stage, everyone would celebrate in silence.

Though Riolo knew it wouldn’t be easy getting everyone to stay quiet, he asked the audience to give only an inaudible golf clap.

“Unlike many of us, Jack is super sensitive to loud noises,” Riolo said before Jack’s name was announced. “I’m going to ask a big favor of everybody today. I would like everyone to not clap, and not cheer. That’s correct. Not clap and not cheer, because it may overstimulate Jack as he comes to the podium to receive his diploma.”

Instead, as Jack, his two brothers, and one of his teachers approach the stage, they received a silent standing ovation.

Riolo felt especially proud of his students who respected Jack’s needs and rose to the occasion.

"The students were amazing. They are a class act and superseded expectations," he told CNN.

"I truly believe people have a kind, compassionate soul and they want to help and this was one of those occasions."

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REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.

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