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Try Harder! Screening and Panel Discussion

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

3 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Film Screening at 3pm in the Joukowsky Forum, 111 Thayer Street. Panel discussion at 5pm via webinar, register here, or watch live on Watson's YouTube channel.

The panel discussion will also be projected in the Joukowsky Forum following the screening.

Registrants will also receive a link to view the film after the panel. The link will be valid from April 28-30, 2022.

Watch webcast

Join the Watson Institute's John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress for a discussion with Debbie Lum '91, director and producer of Try Harder!, and two of the film's subjects, Rachael Schmidt '21, a recent Brown grad now pursuing an MD-PhD, and Richard Shapiro, recently retired Physics and AP Physics teacher at Lowell H.S.

Moderated by Susanna Loeb, director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. 

About the film:

At Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, the seniors are stressed out. As they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, students are keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. At Lowell—where cool kids are nerds, nearly everyone has an amazing talent, and most of the student body is Asian American—the things that usually make a person stand out can feel commonplace. With humor and heart, director Debbie Lum captures the reality of the American college application process and the intersection of class, race, and educational opportunity as young adults navigate a quintessential rite of passage.

Watch the trailer here.

The John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress

Debbie Lum is an award-winning San Francisco-based filmmaker whose projects give voice to the Asian American experience and other unsung stories. SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE, her feature-length directing debut premiered at SXSW, aired on PBS' Independent Lens and won numerous awards, including Best of Fest (Silverdocs), Best Feature Documentary (CAAMFest) and Outstanding Director (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival). It was also profiled on PRI’s This American Life. The film was a “fan favorite” on PBS and alongside its broadcast premiere, Lum launched theyreallysobeautiful.com, a companion website and 5-part short video series about race and dating.

Previously she worked as a documentary editor; her editing credits include A.K.A DON BONUS (winner, National Emmy), KELLY LOVES TONY (nominee, IDA Best Documentary), which she also co-produced and TO YOU SWEETHEART, ALOHA (winner, Audience Award, VC LA Film Festival). She has also written and directed several short comedies, CHINESE BEAUTY, A GREAT DEAL! and ONE APRIL MORNING, which screened at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival among many others. She has an M.F.A in Cinema from San Francisco State University, a B.A. in Religious Studies from Brown University and completed the CPB Producer’s Workshop at WGBH.


Rachael Schmidt graduated from Lowell High School (‘2017). At Lowell, she was a member of Shield and Scroll honor society, and an editor-in-chief for the school newspaper “The Lowell.” While attending a high school summer program at Harvard, she developed a passion for biology. In 2021, she graduated with honors from Brown University with a Bachelor of Sciences in biology. She is currently working as a neuroscience research associate at UCSF and hopes to pursue an MD-PhD.


Richard Shapiro taught math and science in the San Francisco unified school district from 1985, and Physics and AP Physics at Lowell high school from 1990 to 2021. At Lowell he initiated a computer-based laboratory program, got accreditation for Lowell’s AP Physics courses, and co-founded in 2010, with his former student, Julia Ye, the Lowell Science Research Program at UCSF. Over 1000 students have participated in this collaboration with UCSF, with a select number performing science research at UCSF, and receiving National recognition for their research. He has been nominated for teacher of the year for Northern California and for San Francisco. He is eternally grateful to his students and colleagues at Lowell who have provided for him the most rewarding, creative and meaningful professional experience imaginable.