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Viral TikTok video shows how a small act of kindness changed the course of one student’s life

Posted in: Homepage News, University

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.

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

And Amy Elizabeth Policelli ’09 had quite the answer.

Fifteen years ago, as a freshman at Montclair State, Policelli wanted to take American Sign Language but at that time, she says, seniors and athletes had first dibs on the course. She started talking to one of her classmates, a softball player, about it. “She 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 non verbal 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 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 a TikTok video went viral, classmates Amy Policelli (center) and Leigh Ann Murduca met for the first time in 15 years on campus.

“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.”

This week, Policelli and Murduca reunited on the Montclair State campus – the first time they’d seen each other since Murduca gave “her spot” in the class to Policelli 15 years ago. They both went 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 said. “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.”

In the month since the TikTok was posted, it has been viewed 5.7 million times, received 1.3 million likes and Policelli’s number of followers has grown to more than 102,000. She has spent a lot of time responding to the nearly 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.”

Story by Editorial Director Laura Griffin; photos by University Photographer Mike Peters.


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