By Brian Kleemann
When Sarah Taschetta (above left) was a junior at Wheaton North High School, she was determined to include students with special needs as anchors on the school’s TV show.
That’s when she met Sam Anderson (above right), a freshman student with Down syndrome, and the two struck up a friendship.
“I loved hanging out with him,” she said. “He was funny and smart, and I knew people would enjoy seeing him on the show.”
Although they briefly lost touch after Taschetta graduated, they reconnected when she was a Television Production student at College of DuPage and taking a class on documentary filmmaking. She read Anderson’s blog, “In My Own Words,” which shares the stories of people with Down syndrome, and thought he would make an ideal subject for a short documentary film.
The result, “Sam Anderson: In My Own Words,” was so well received that it recently was nominated for a Crystal Pillar Student Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the producers of the Chicago/Midwest Emmy Awards. Although the film – nominated in the College Production-Long Form category – didn’t win, Taschetta (Winfield) and Anderson (Wheaton) attended the ceremony together and enjoyed the experience.
“It was such an unexpected honor,” she said. “I enjoyed being there together with Sam, and he was excited to meet weatherman Tom Skilling and former White House correspondent Peter Alexander.”
Anderson, who currently takes skills literacy classes at College of DuPage and is a Community Unit School District 200 transition program student, hopes his blog educates readers about people with Down syndrome. His posts introduce different persons with Down syndrome, and they share their stories through interviews and photos.
“We’re special in every way, and I want to show how we are interesting and unique,” he said. “I want people to understand we have the same interests and abilities as everyone else. We go on dates. We have a lot of dreams.”
His mom, Katherine, who transcribes her son’s interviews for the blog, said Taschetta contacted the family to discuss the possibility of a film. They were happy to agree, so Taschetta spent six months following Anderson to capture the right material.
“Storytelling is my strong point, and through this project I learned a lot more about showing rather than telling,” she said. “I produced, edited and shot the film myself, and I loved every minute of my time with Sam.”
In addition to taking classes at COD, Anderson works at Bon Appétit at Wheaton College. He someday would like to be a businessman and get married. As for the film, he was thrilled that it was shown at Wheaton North.
“It was really interesting and special, and a lot of people watched it. Some people said it was the best movie they had ever seen,” he said.
Taschetta currently is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Television Production at Columbia College and would like to work behind-the-scenes as a director or producer for a TV talk show. She is happy about the opportunity to share Anderson’s story with a larger audience.
“I wanted this film to mean something, and I’m glad people responded so positively to Sam,” she said. “He is truly an inspiration.”