On June 20, 2019 Jack Higgins had the opportunity to be exactly like all other his other fellow classmates while crossing the stage to receive his diploma. This task could not have been done without the silence of all students, friends, and families in the stadium because Higgins has autism and is hypersensitive to sounds, a common characteristic for those with autism. Higgins is well known at the high school, for he has been there for eight years in their program for students with cognitive, learning or behavior challenges.
Higgins’s parents discussed with teachers and staff at the school to find the best way for their son to be a part of the graduation, just as every other child was able to do so. Lou Riolo, principal at Carmel High School had a great idea that would allow Higgins to participate.
At the ceremony prior to Higgins walking, Riolo states, “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.” This silent display of pride is not common at a graduation. Nevertheless, it was the most effective and accurate way to show their support for Higgins.
Higgins began with his fingers in his ears to block out the noise that he anticipated from the countless rehearsals as he walked on the stage, accompanied by his two brothers and his aide while crossing the stage. However, he slowly removed them as the crowd remained silent. To demonstrate their compassion, all of Higgins’ fellow graduates silently stood up.
Roilo further explains how every student should feel proud and comfortable at their graduation. He tells CNN, “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.” This small act has meant a lot for Higgins and his family, for they felt a part of a larger community of all students and families at graduation.