| Graduating Peter
Graduating Peter is the sequel to the Academy Award®-winning film Educating Peter. Peter was the first child with severe disabilities to be included with regular students at his elementary school. When Peter entered middle school, we continued to film him at school, at home, and in his community, until he graduated from high school with a certificate of attendance. This is the story of one family’s struggle to build the best future for their son. Released on HBO.
Graduating Peter: Synopsis
Since 1975, federal law has given students with disabilities the right to attend class with non-disabled students, a process called inclusion. In 1991, Peter Gwazdauskas, a third grader with Down syndrome, became one of the first students with severe disabilities to attend classes at his southern Virginia elementary school, an experience that was documented in Gerardine Wurzburg's HBO special "Educating Peter."
"Educating Peter" made strides for the disabilities rights movement, and won an Oscar® in the Documentary Short Subject category, but did not tell the whole story. When Peter entered sixth grade, Wurzburg returned to Blacksburg, Va., to continue filming him. For seven years, as Peter grew from an adolescent to an adult, she chronicled his life, capturing both daily occurrences and formative events, from sixth grade through high school graduation.
The HBO America Undercover documentary "Graduating Peter" invites viewers to take a walk in Peter's shoes and offers a glimpse into a world seldom seen. This unflinchingly honest film includes scenes that show Peter confronting depression, loneliness and the limitations of his disability. His deficient speech and communication skills often make it difficult for him to be assimilated at school, isolating him from his peers, while others' dismissive attitudes and lack of respect can jeopardize Peter's progress.
"Graduating Peter" also shows Peter emerging from his shell, gaining acceptance from his peers, and enjoying classic high school moments. In his senior year, Peter becomes the manager of the varsity boys soccer team, escorts another student to the senior prom, and, to the cheers of his classmates, graduates with a Certificate of Attendance. The film is a testament to those on the frontlines fighting for Peter's rights, especially his mother Judy. In meeting after meeting, she checks in with Peter's teachers, makes plans for his transition to high school, and later, into the community, and struggles to treat his complex medical problems. Through it all, Judy is there for Peter, waging a constant battle to build the best future for her son.
At the end of "Graduating Peter", that future is not clear. It will not be without challenges, but Peter has learned enough life and job skills to give himself a fighting chance for independence, and a full life.
"Graduating Peter" was directed and produced by Gerardine Wurzburg; additional directing by Grady Watts; associate producer, Ali DeGerome; cameraman, Gary Griffin; sound recordist, Robert Silverthorne; editor, Barbara Ballow; original music composed by Geoff Muldaur. For HBO: supervising producer, Julie Anderson; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
Graduating Peter: Review
National Public Radio
Jan 21, 2003
From 'Educating Peter' to 'Graduating Peter'
Documentary Filmmaker Charts Disabled Young Man's Course
In 1992, the Academy Award for best documentary short subject went to a film by producer/director Gerardine Wurzburg that followed a young boy with Down syndrome through third grade in a regular class in his Blacksburg, Va., elementary school.
That documentary, Educating Peter, showed Peter, his classmates and his teacher struggling with the challenges posed by his disability. But it ended with both students and teacher testifying to their own growth as a result of Peter's inclusion in their class.
Now there is a new documentary, airing tonight on HBO. Graduating Peter takes up the story in middle school, where students on the brink of adolescence are less tolerant.
But as with his earlier experience in elementary school, Peter again finds acceptance and even enjoys moments that other teen-agers have -- dates, dances and a job.
Eventually, Peter does "graduate" high school with a certificate of attendance. But the latest film presents a stark portrait of the complexities of growing up with Down syndrome.