Highland Park students’ study of differences reveals ‘same hopes, same dreams”
Peter ten Brink (far left) spoke to sixth-grade students at Elm Place Middle School in Highland Park Jan. 23 about his acting parts and living with Down syndrome. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:28AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Peter ten Brink is a living testament to what people with special needs can accomplish.
At the age of 20, he’s already landed acting roles in two movies, including “Smile as Big as the Moon,” which aired last year on ABC’s Hallmark Channel.
He’s also starred in a shorter film, “By Any Other Name.” In that film, he plays Jared, a young man with Down syndrome who works in a Chicago bookstore and becomes infatuated with a co-worker named Marissa.
Last week, ten Brink spoke to 6th grade students at Elm Place Middle School in Highland Park.
“You may recognize him as Jared,” teacher Lori Wyatt remarked, as she introduced the star of a film the students had recently seen as part of their study of differences.
Ten Brink spoke about his peer interactions, his acting work in special-needs productions of “Annie” and “High School Musical” and the invitations to work in movies that came through his acting coach.
He brought students a DVD of “Smile as Big as the Moon,” which tells the true story of a teacher who worked against the odds in 1989 to get his special needs students into NASA’s Space Camp.
The lead actor in the movie was John Corbett of “Sex and the City” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
“I’m going to give you this movie so you understand how bullying affects people with special needs,” ten Brink told his rapt audience in the school’s Instructional Media Center.
“People with disabilities have the same hopes as you do, the same goals as you do, the same dreams.”
Students had plenty of questions for their guest speaker, who grew up in Glencoe and is a 2012 graduate of New Trier High School.
Asked what he liked about acting, he said, “If you are angry and stressed out, you can just get it out; you don’t take it out on your parents.”
Questioned about his future plans, he said he is spending some time learning skills of independent living. His goal, he said, is to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Is there someone he looks up to, one student asked. “Taylor Swift,” he replied without hesitation. “She’s down to earth.”