A Life-Changing Act of Kindness

Fifteen years ago, a student’s small gesture changed the course of a classmate’s life

It was a trending question on TikTok this past summer: “What’s one small, unimportant decision that changed the whole trajectory of your life?”

And Amy Elizabeth Policelli ’09 had quite the answer.

Screenshot of Amy's viral Tiktok video

Fifteen years ago, as a freshman at Montclair State, Policelli wanted to take American Sign Language but, she says, it was well known at that time that seniors and athletes had first dibs on the course. While talking to one of her classmates, a softball player, about it, the player “offered to sign up for the class and then drop it so I could get her spot.”

As it turned out, the class had such an impact on Policelli that she minored in ASL and later went back to school to become an interpreter. She worked as an interpreter and now teaches ASL to middle schoolers.

But there’s more: “I have a 5-year-old son who is nonverbal who has a genetic disorder,” she told TikTokers. “And I am able to provide him with language to communicate, all thanks to that softball player.”

In fact, Policelli’s son, who speaks just a handful of words, has learned 150-200 signs in the last year and a half – greatly reducing his frustration levels.

“This one small act of kindness changed my whole life, and I had no idea who this person was who helped put me on the right path in life,” she says. TikTokers were touched by the story, and since she couldn’t remember the player’s name, they went to work, making the video go viral, and within a day, put Policelli in touch with former Montclair State pitcher Leigh Ann Murduca ’09, ’11 MA.

Amy Policelli and Leigh Ann Murduca
After her TikTok video went viral, Amy Policelli (second from left) met on campus with former classmate Leigh Ann Murduca for the first time in 15 years.

“I was honestly shocked, and I’m not going to lie, I definitely cried a bit,” says Murduca about hearing the story. “I am just so happy for her. It’s crazy how a small favor I did such a long time ago had such a butterfly effect.”

In September, Policelli and Murduca reunited on the Montclair State campus – the first time they’d seen each other since Murduca held a spot in the class for Policelli 15 years ago. They both had gone on to become teachers and mothers. (Murduca, who also ended up taking ASL at Montclair, teaches high school math and has a 2-year-old son.)

“As a mother, I see how important it is to be able to communicate with my son, and be there for him when he needs me,” Murduca says. “I get chills thinking about how this story played out, and I’m so happy that Amy is able to communicate and be literally the perfect mom for her son.”

Amy Policelli and Leigh Ann Murduca
Amy Policelli (center) and Leigh Ann Murduca communicate with Policelli’s son using sign language during a visit at Montclair State.

Since the TikTok was posted, it has been viewed 5.8 million times, received 1.3 million likes and Policelli’s number of followers has grown to more than 105,000. She has spent lots of time responding to the more than 8,200 comments she received – as well as comments on follow-up videos – making it possibly another seemingly small decision that may have changed her life.

“Everyone has been so positive and so supportive,” she says. “It’s been such an amazing experience.”