• Jack Higgins graduates with his high school diploma. (YouTube)Source: YouTube
Jack Higgins was onstage to receive his high school diploma.
Samuel Leighton-Dore

15 Jul 2019 - 10:21 AM  UPDATED 15 Jul 2019 - 10:23 AM

The graduating students of Carmel High School in West Connecticut put on a heartwarming display of school spirit last week, offering classmate Jack Higgins, who has autism, a silent ovation as he received his diploma onstage.

Approaching the stage with his two brothers and school aide, Higgins had his fingers in his ears to block the anticipated loud noise - something many people with autism can find overwhelming. However, the noise never came, with the auditorium full of students, teachers and parents standing up silently instead.

According to CNN, the gesture of solidarity was organised by Higgins' parents, teacher, and the school principal, Lou Riolo.

"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."

Riolo admitted that there was some concern that not all students would participate respectfully.

"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."

In the end, the plan went off without a hitch, with the Western Connecticut State University's O'Neill Centre falling completely silent when it was Higgins' turn to approach the stage.

"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"They are a class act and superseded expectations.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."

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