LONG ISLAND - Joseph Falco Jr. was overcome with emotion when he was announced as Copiague High School's 2022 valedictorian with a whopping 104.44 GPA.
The accolade is an astounding accomplishment for the 17-year-old who was diagnosed with autism when he was two. Doctors told his mother, Dolores, that there was a good chance he might never speak.
But for someone who was told he wouldn’t be able to express himself - he turned out to be very expressive.
"I proved that I could be number one and I could mean something," he said.
With intensive therapy and a strong support system, he’s proof-positive hard work pays off.
"People who used to make fun of him now respect him," Dolores said.
Joe founded the high school’s civil debate club and throughout his high school career, enjoyed classes in math, computer science and even took part in musicals.
"Through support from his family and from the teachers and staff here at the high school - he’s been able to shine," said principal Joseph Agosta.
Joe plans to enjoy his last days as a senior. He’ll be giving a valedictorian speech at graduation. This Fall he’s headed to Hofstra where he plans to pursue a degree in cybersecurity and hopes to one day be the director of cybersecurity for the FBI.
"As different as he is, he’s not different," Dolores said. "He’s just very unique. He’s amazing."
He shares this message with other students who may be struggling to find themselves:
"Look at me," he said. "Low functioning autism. Here I am. Valedictorian. If I can do it, who says you can’t?"