A Heartwarming Graduation Story of Inclusion and Kindness

As fellow promoters of kindness, we are always on the lookout for stories in the news that illustrate this value. This week, our searching landed us on the heartwarming story of Jack Higgins’ graduation, published by CNN. We were almost brought to tears as we read of the kindness shown to Higgins on his big day, so we just had to spread the word!

Who is Jack Higgins?

Jack Higgins was a student at Carmel High School in Putnam County, New York. Higgins suffers from a form of autism that makes him particularly sensitive to noise. After 8 years of hard work in Carmel High’s program for students with behavioral, learning and cognitive challenges, the time had finally come for Higgins to graduate. 

Graduation Concerns for Higgins

To commemorate all of his hard work, Higgins’ family hoped that he would be able to participate in the ceremony. However, there was concern that the experience might be too overwhelming for him. Graduation ceremonies, by nature, are loud and long. Given Higgins’ difficulties with noise, his teachers were concerned that spending hours among rambunctious students in a noisy auditorium might be a difficult task for him. In hopes of seeking out a solution, the Carmel High staff considered their options to support Higgins and his family in having this experience.

A Solution for Higgins’ Graduation

After some thought, Carmel High’s principal, Lou Riolo, came up with an idea. What if everyone attending the graduation ceremony sat silently as Higgins’ received his diploma? The idea was exciting and daunting at the same time. Moving forward with this plan would mean that Carmel High would have to work together to help Higgins’ get the graduation experience he deserved. But what if people didn’t cooperate? At the end of the day, the success of this plan relied solely on the willingness of Carmel High’s students and graduation attendees to show kindness and compassion out of the goodness of their hearts. 

Higgins’ Heartwarming Graduation

Principle Riolo and Higgins’ family decided to move forward with his plan, choosing to believe in the ability of the graduation community to rise up and choose kindness. Teachers and staff worked with Higgins, practicing and preparing for the ceremony. Higgins was taught to cover his ears just in case the noise became louder than expected. Then came graduation day.

Before Higgins’ was called to the stage, Principle Riolo spoke to the students of Carmel High, asking them to please remain silent out of kindness and respect for Higgins’ disability. What happened next exceeded Riolo’s expectations. As Higgins approached the stage covering his ears, the entire auditorium fell quiet. And as Higgins received his diploma, students were compelled to rise and give him a silent standing ovation.

The Impact of Kindness

Imagine that. An auditorium packed full of students and families, teachers and staff, kept completely silent, and standing to honor a young man who spent 8 years working hard to make it to this day. Kindness comes in many forms. But the impact is always the same. We are inspired by the kindness and inclusion of Carmel High School. Because of this community, a fellow student was able to feel a part of, in the most beautiful way. Thank you for being an example of what compassion in action looks like. 


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