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Putnam County high school graduating class falls silent so autistic fellow student can receive diploma

The New York Daily News - 7/9/2019

Jul. 8--High school graduation is usually marked by the exuberance of boisterous teens being let loose into the world, figuratively speaking.

But at a recent ceremony you could have heard a pin drop.

Jack Higgins was ready to graduate high school. He just needed a little help from his classmates. Jack, who spent eight years in the Carmel, N.Y., PACE program tailored to students with disabilities, is autistic and severely sensitive to noise, principal Lou Riolo told the crowd in the packed auditorium.

After asking them to "divert from the traditional" mode of celebration, Riolo laid out his request.

"I would like everyone to not clap and not cheer," he said. "That's correct. Not clap and not cheer."

He said Jack would be accompanied by his two brothers to the podium to receive his diploma and asked for complete silence until the student had left the arena. The one exception: Jack's classmates could do a "golf clap," silently placing their hands together in applause motion. He suggested they experience it as an exercise in compassion.

The results were stunning. The room went completely silent. Jack's classmates at Carmel High School all stood somberly as he slowly processed to the stage in his blue gown, fingers lodged in his ears, to receive his diploma. The result was an incredible six minutes.

"An amazing thing took place at Carmel High School's graduation," Riolo said in notes accompanying the YouTube video. "Jack has autism, and with that comes sensory issues. At graduation the student body and several thousand individuals were asked to not clap or cheer so Jack could participate. What followed was nothing short of a miracle. We shot for the moon but instead reached the stars."


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