(CNN)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.
High school students offer a silent ovation while a classmate with autism receives his diploma
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."