During his 14-year tenure at Concord High School, Principal Gene Connolly was known for his non-stop energy, his love of rock & roll, and the personal connections he made with many of the school’s 1,600 students. However, in 2014, Connolly became known for something very different: the rapid loss of his ability to walk and speak due to the debilitating effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). He joined approximately 12,000 other Americans living with ALS, which typically results in death within 2-5 years.

People in a handshake

At the school’s 2015 homecoming parade, documentary filmmaker Dan Habib (creator of "Including Samuel" and "Who Cares About Kelsey?") watched his son Samuel have a conversation with Connolly. But neither spoke. Samuel (then a sophomore at Concord High) and Gene used hand gestures and communication devices— Samuel because of his cerebral palsy, and Connolly because ALS had taken away his ability to speak.

“Mr. Connolly Has ALS” chronicles Connolly’s final year as principal of the school and features CHS students – including Habib's son Samuel – asking Connolly about the most profound and personal aspects relating to his life with the disease, and what it feels like to become disabled.

These questions are threaded throughout the documentary to explore the themes that Connolly’s ALS catalyzed in the community: how to live life fully, develop resilience, show love freely, and identify priorities; what it feels like to acquire a disability; how people perceive individuals with disabilities; and how to approach an inevitable death with honesty and dignity.