Gesture of friendship lands St. Charles students spot on 'Today'

  • The story of the friendship between Graham Jackson, left, and Zach Hirsch, of St. Charles, will be featured on NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning.

    The story of the friendship between Graham Jackson, left, and Zach Hirsch, of St. Charles, will be featured on NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning. Photo courtesy of the Hirsch family

Published12/2/2009 12:00 AM

The story of a simple gesture of friendship, made in a cafeteria at St. Charles North High School a year ago, will go nationwide Thursday on NBC's "Today" show.

The morning news and entertainment show will feature Zach Hirsch and Graham Jackson of St. Charles during the "Everyone Has a Story" segment in the 9 a.m. hour. Kathie Lee Gifford, co-host of that hour of the show, has written a song about the story, and it will be performed by a Broadway musical actress. The segment is a regular feature.


Hirsch, who was a senior at the school last year, saw Graham, a freshman, eating lunch by himself everyday.

"I just don't think people should have to eat lunch alone," Hirsch, now at the University of Nebraska, said Tuesday, recalling the time in December 2008 when he decided to befriend Jackson.

Because Hirsch was friends with Jackson's cousin, a basketball teammate, he also knew Jackson faced some difficulties. Namely, he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. As a result, Jackson has trouble with some social relationships, including making friends.

After consulting his mother, Hirsch introduced himself to Jackson the next day.

"Each day he got a little more comfortable with me," said Hirsch, who is on a baseball scholarship at Nebraska.

The two bonded over sports. "It's real interesting to talk to him ... he's probably the biggest sports guru I know," said Hirsch, who will arrive in New York Wednesday for the show. "It's interesting to get his insight."

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With Hirsch's help, Graham became a student assistant for the baseball team, and got to know some of the other athletes.

"It makes me feel good, not just for me, but for Zach," Jackson said of their friendship. He finds their appearance on TV "unbelievable."

A national story?

Their mothers think so.

Hirsch's gesture impressed Jackson's mother, Melissa. She said the effect on Graham since he became friends with Hirsch has been profound. "This is his first real friendship," she said Tuesday from New York.

Even so, she was prepared for her son to be disappointed once Hirsch went away to college and Graham couldn't see Hirsch every day. "It was difficult for Graham over the summer, anticipating that," Jackson said. She told herself it was a "life lesson" for Graham.

But the friendship continues. The two e-mail, text and talk several times a week. And Hirsch's remaining North Stars teammates look out for Graham.

"They have just stepped up and continue to make him feel like a part of the group," Graham's mother said.


"Zach is just an extraordinary person, in that he continues to make the effort."

Zach's mom, Nancy, agrees. With Melissa's permission, she wrote in to the "Today" show contest, describing the friendship.

The day Zach told her what he was going to do, "It was probably one of the proudest moments I've had in all my life ... I don't know if it can be topped," even by any sports glory her son might attain, she said.

She has since become friends with the Jacksons.

"It's just a beautiful friendship for all of us," Nancy said.

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