Don’t tell Greg Kazmierski he is handicapped. He’ll just say, “No dice. I’m not.” Greg is a regular 18-year-old guy who just happens to have one extra chromosome. He also just happens to be the first teen with Downs Syndrome to be integrated into the Carleton school system and graduate from high school.
The key word in describing Greg’s participation at Lester B. Pearson High School in Ottawa is “integration.” At one time he was taking classes with other disabled students in s segregated environment. Greg and his family were convinced he could function nicely in the mainstream and thus began a two-year battle to have him attend regular classes.
Greg’s father id Dr. Carl Kazmierski, a Professor of the New Testament at Ottawa University. His mother, Mary Anne, is a retired teacher with a Masters in Religious Studies; his Aunt Angela, is well-known pro-life lawyer, Angela Costigan.
It was Mrs. Costigan who took his case to the appeal board of the Carlton Separate School Board after he was refused an opportunity by the Board to study with other students. They won the case and Greg was accepted at Lester B. Pearson High School in 1986. “It was a long process,” said his mother.
When picking up his diploma, Greg received a standing ovation from his peers. It was a joyous way to end the years of struggling to prove disabled children can succeed in school right alongside those without visible handicaps. Mary Anne called the ovation a tribute to all handicapped children.
The principal of Greg’s school, John Shannon, describes Greg as someone who has a very positive effect on the whole school. “The sincerity and honesty with which he approached things rubbed off on other people. There was no phoney-ness in Greg. What he does h does honesty and straightforwardly.” Indeed, when his fellow students rose to honour Greg they were also demonstrating pride in their own participation in Greg’s achievement. One teacher said that, “The students took responsibility for Greg. They took him around and told him when things were acceptable and when they were not.”
Since his acceptance at Lester B. Pearson High School, Greg has studied computers, English, drama and physical education. He was also manager of the hockey team. Karl Kazmierski explained how Greg really took part I the life of the school. Some would say he was the life of the school. “He added so much atmosphere to the class,” said Joan Goss, Greg’s keyboarding teacher. “There was always a smile and a handshake and a kiss in the morning.”
Greg’s older brother Vincent, who just graduated from McGill University in Montreal with the highest political science and history marks of his class, described his brother as “the most fun-loving guy you’ll ever meet. There’s no stopping the kid.” Vince believes that more Downs Syndrome children should be integrated into our school systems to encourage people to abandon prejudices and “learn to live with each other.”
Fellow student Ian Smith said of Greg, “Even when I was down he’s bring me right back up again. No matter how far he goes I thing Greg will be the person I remember most in my graduating class.”
Greg Kazmierski is presently working at an IGA grocery store in produce and customer packing. What’s next? He and his family are contemplating his attendance at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
There’s no stopping the kid!