High school students offer silent ovation while classmate with autism receives diploma

News

Jack Higgins was escorted to the stage by his brothers and an aide.

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

PUTNAM COUNTY, N.Y. – At his high school graduation, Jack Higgins approached the stage to receive his diploma with his fingers in his ears to block what he thought would be applause and cheers.

Instead, he was met by silence.

Higgins is a familiar face in the cafeteria, library, hallways and classrooms of Carmel High School, and he’s well-known there. He has a severe form of autism and is sensitive to noise. After eight years in the school’s program for students with cognitive, learning or behavior challenges, he was ready to graduate on June 20.

His parents, Barbara and Pat, wanted him to participate in the ceremony, and they approached his teacher Erin Appelle about it. However, there were concerns that he would be overwhelmed sitting for hours in a large auditorium surrounded by hundreds of people.

“In our school we have a banner as you enter all of our school buildings # WhatsBestforKids,” Lou Riolo, principal of Carmel High in Putnam County, New York, wrote in an email. “It sounds corny but makes sense. But in this case what was best for Jack?”

Riolo had an idea: have everyone sit in silence as Higgins walked across the stage.

Knowing that this was an important moment for Higgins, Riolo approached members of his staff, and they immediately bought in. Higgins’ parents were thrilled with the idea as well.

“It was important to pull this off,” Riolo said. “First off for Jack, second for his family who could experience the same event as every other parent/family whose child reaches this milestone was of great importance. Lastly to give the opportunity to everyone in that arena a chance to assist in making one young man’s and his families graduation dreams a reality.”

Students can often be unpredictable and rebellious, and getting everyone to agree would not be easy. But when people asked Riolo whether the staff thought they could pull it off, his answer was always yes.

“You often have to give people the opportunity to rise to an occasion,” he said. “I truly believe people have a kind, compassionate soul and they want to help and this was one of those occasions.”

Before calling Higgins to the graduation stage, Riolo asked everyone in attendance at Western Connecticut State University’s O’Neill Center to keep quiet and offer only a soft golf clap.

Flanked by his two brothers and school aide Rob Ancona, Higgins approached the stage with his fingers in his ears, but the loud noises he expected after weeks of practice runs with his teacher were nowhere to be heard.

He received a silent standing ovation.

“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 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. 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.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trademark and Copyright 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

About FOX 2 News

FOX 2 and KPLR 11 in St. Louis cover the news in Missouri and Illinois. There are over 68 hours of live news and local programming on-air each week. Our website and live video streams operate 24/7. Download our apps for alerts and follow us on social media for updates in your feed.

President Harry Truman said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” That spirit is alive and well at Fox 2. Our teamwork is on display each and every day.

Our news slogan is: “Coverage You Can Count On.” We quite frankly are too busy to worry about who gets the credit. Our main concern is serving the viewer.

We go where the stories take us. Whether it be Washington, D.C when a Belleville man opened fire during a congressional baseball game practice or to Puerto Rico where local Ameren crews restored power after more than 5 months in the dark.

Coverage You Can Count On means “Waking up your Day” with our top-rated morning show. From 4:00 am-10:00 am we are leading the way with breaking news. But our early morning crew also knows how to have some fun! Our strong commitment to the communities we serve is highlighted with our Friday neighborhood shows.

Our investigative unit consists of three reporters. Elliott Davis focuses on government waste, Chris Hayes is our investigative reporter, and Mike Colombo is our consumer reporter. They work in unison with the news department by sharing resources and ideas.

We continue to cover breaking news aggressively and relied on our seasoned journalists to make a difference with the stories we covered. The shooting of Arnold Police Officer Ryan O’Connor is just one example of that. Jasmine Huda was the only reporter who had exclusive access to the O’Connor family during his amazing rehabilitation in Colorado.

Last, but certainly not least, FOX 2 and KPLR 11 are committed to covering local politics. We host debates among candidates and have the most extensive presidential election coverage. Our commitment to politics isn’t just during an election year. We produce two political shows that air every weekend.

Popular

Latest News

More News