Dreams bigger than his program


He came to school to take the recreation and leisure program but once he graduates Derek Szwed’s plans are much different.

Szwed, a student at Durham College has always had his eye on the TV, and hopes one day he’ll be the one on the screen.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to be an actor ever since I was seven. I would always watch movies and TV and said maybe one of these days I’d become an actor,” says Szwed. “I know it’s pretty hard but I just don’t want to give up.”

He’s part of a different kind of diversity at DC: diversity related to abilities. He uses the Community Integration through Cooperative Education (CICE) office, a place that provides opportunity to people with significant learning challenges and intellectual disabilities. CICE modifies curriculum, if necessary, and provides learning facilitators to attend class with students.

In the past, attending college may not have been an option for many with learning challenges but the CICE has changed that.

They have helped Szwed through his first year.

“They (learning facilitators) actually sit down with you and they go through it. They walk you through these tutorials and stuff to help you with the homework and stuff. It’s really nice that we have this here so it’s really good,” he says.

He’s not too concerned with his learning disability – he hasn’t even bothered to remember what it’s called. But he can explain what it’s like when he’s in class.

“I need help with things like sometimes they’ll come read it out to me with tests and stuff like that,” he says.

Szwed hasn’t always been so casual about his learning disability though. He had to get help in high school and sometimes it made things difficult for him.

“All the kids look at you thinking, oh this guy’s different,” says Szwed. “There were a little bit of hard times. I didn’t really have that many friends. I had a few friends.”

He joked about how he wasn’t the popular jock type but he wasn’t the bottom of the food chain either.

“I got along with everybody if they talked to me,” he says.

Growing up Szwed said he may not have had a lot of friends but he always had his brother Adam and his friends.

“When I didn’t get invited to parties he’d always take me along with him and he’d always cheer me up in the end,” he says. “My brother’s friend Rob, he’d always be cheering me up every day I got sad or angry I didn’t get invited somewhere.”

Now that Szwed is in college he is enjoying himself much more. It’s still hard to deal with college, but he finds it a better experience.

“I was so nervous to meet new people but then it kind of helped me meet so many people like every month, every day,” he says. “College is a great experience for anybody because it helps you get out of your comfort zone. It helped me get out of my shell.”

Szwed recalled orientation day when he met another student whose father was a firefighter just like his, and it helped him feel more comfortable at school.

“It’s kind of funny when you meet another firefighters son that you kind of have so much in common together. It’s really nice,” he says.

Each day is a new challenge but Szwed faces it head on.

“I’ve got a bit of anxiety so sometimes it can really take its toll on you. One day I’ll feel really down, and the next moment I’ll feel kind of great,” he says. “I had to learn to deal with it over time and you know I’m really holding onto it right now. It’s really hard to go off the rails when you’re in school and stuff. It can be a little scary, but I guess sometimes that’s just life.”

Even though he loves the chance to go to college he still wants to be on TV when he graduates. Szwed likes the idea of celebrities using their status to help others and he wants to do the same.

“I can really help out charities and support other disabled kids and tell them you should always follow your dream and never give up on it,” he says. “Even though that you’re disabled, or have special needs, or if you’re in a wheelchair. You can do it.”


  1. Well written article. Thank you for featuring this fine young man, As the ED of Grandview Children’s Centre we are thrilled the CICE program is here for our community. By the way the guy Rob he mentioned is my son!
    Thank you for writing an important story. Well done!

  2. I have known Derek Szwed since he was born. He has always had that beautiful personality and smile. Loved this article and love the great -CICE program.

  3. What a great article! It’s wonderful that such a program exsists. He seems to be thriving it in. Well done Durham College!