The Road to the Disney College Program- 2 Years Later
Once upon a time, there lived a little boy and a little girl who grew up living their lives in different parts of the country. They did all the things that kids do growing up including having the courage to dream the biggest of dreams. For the little boy, he knew from the moment that he could walk and talk and maybe even before that and that he was destined to grow up to make magic for others by entertaining and dancing at Disneyland. Truth be told, before he was two years old, he would dress up in as Sorcerer Mickey, climb up on top of the coffee table and reenact all of Fantasmic and do it perfectly I might add. And wow – how that has paid off! The years saw him perfect his dance skills, performing in musicals and every day the dream of Disney got closer. His dancing led him to national competitions until one day the most unexpected yet most wanted of emails appeared-he had been invited to be a part a program 6 years in the making and part of the long running Disney Youth Programs, the Disney Performing Arts Conservatory allowed each of these 15-19 year old a chance to see their dreams come alive and experience the magic of performing on the Disney stage at the Disneyland Resort. For one magical week, 40 talented singers, dancers, actors and puppeteers came together to work with the best of the best in Disney mentoring as they lived their dreams with the first ever, one week long, intensive performing arts experience.As a parent of a child that had always dreamed of working at Disney, and nothing else, I thought it could never be more overwhelming than it was to be ushered backstage to see firsthand each of our children living their dreams. There are absolutely no words anywhere that could ever adequately convey the feelings that overcome you as you enter the Disneyland rehearsal studios. You immediately felt the history all around you, as you are hit with the knowledge that this was the place where throughout the years, every show, every parade, every performance first got it’s start right here in these hallowed halls. Walking into the rehearsal studio and seeing your son, microphone in hand singing and dancing, seeing the total joy and confidence radiating from within not just Zack, but all of the young performers, coupled with the look of pride on the faces of the parents, as well as the mentors that worked so hard to bring each of these Conservatory members to this point in time is something I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.
I thought it couldn’t get any better than that, until the following day when these 40 confident young performers took to the stage in Disney California Adventure Park and there was my son, the little boy who dreamed all his life of performing at Disney, up on the stage. Walt Disney must have had this exact moment in time in mind when he said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
But as we all know, once your dream is so close that you can taste it and feel it and know that it is obtainable, you don’t stop there but do anything and everything in your power to make all your dreams come true and exactly two years ago today, the dream became a reality when Zack’s dreams came true as pinned on his Cast Member name tag and joined the ranks of entertainers at the Walt Disney World Resort as part of the Disney College Program.
It’s still hard for me, even after two years, not to well up with tears and beam with pride knowing that the little boy that appeared on the coffee table reenacting every move of Fantasmic grew up to live out his dreams passing on the joy and the magic that has come to mean so much to him to others each and every day. Zack’s courage to follow his dreams, even when it meant taking the leap of faith and moving to the other side of the country inspire me and fill me with pride.
But more importantly, his talents and passion never cease to astonish me because he followed his heart, his soul and his passion reminding all of us that know him and everyone he meets, that Zack was given a mind that has the gift to create, and a spirit within his body that moves to the music like no one is watching. His smile continues to light up and he is in every sense of the word, he is magical.
But the story doesn’t end there, because it was as a part of the Disney College Program, that another very gifted and talented young lady was also fulfilling her dream but for Jessica, her road to Disney was quite different than Zack’s. Unlike the little boy who grew up with only one dream in life, to perform at Disney, Jessica’s road to Disney was quite different Jessica’s proud mom, and my fellow writer here Tammy, shared how the vivacious and vibrant little girl from Georgia, ended up at the most magical place on earth:
“Graduating from High School is scary, but graduating from College is downright terrifying! It was senior year and Jessica was already being bombarded with the question “so, what are your plans after graduation?” I know she was feeling overwhelmed and terrified! A friend of hers from school was doing the Disney College Program and was having a great time. After talking with her, Jessica decided to apply.
She had all her interviews and then the hard part began – the wait to hear if she was accepted into the program! She was lucky – it was around the end of February when she got the email, some people had to wait much longer! She was accepted and she was offered the role of PhotoPass Photographer – her first choice in roles! As soon as she called to tell me I started to cry! It was so good to know some of the “adult world” pressure was off her shoulders. That weekend when she came home from school we had a celebration!
I made a Mickey Mouse paper chain to count down the days until her move in day. There were 82 (I think…maybe 84) days! Once she saw the paper chain she refused to tear the links off because she thought it was too cute! So we hung it in her stairwell where it stayed until the one-year anniversary of her acceptance. It’s now hanging in her old bedroom. Spring break was coming and we planned a trip to Walt Disney World to check things out! We stalked all the PhotoPass Photographers to see what they were wearing – trying to plan shoes, socks, etc.! We met with her friend who was on her college program at the time and asked her dozens of questions! Knowing that she was going to be part of that magic kept me emotional the entire trip! It was hard for her to stay focused the rest of her senior year, but she did and graduated Magna Cum Laude with degrees in Film and Video and in Journalism. Move in day came one week and two days after graduation!
It was an exciting and exhausting day! The rest of the week was filled with training, costuming and organizing the new apartment! Jessica’s college program lasted a year. During that time we saw her grow from a college student into an adult who is learning to take care of herself. We also saw her grow to love interacting with guests while making magic with her camera! And now she’s moved on to a new role as Character Attendant!
She loved it so much that she decided to apply for regular employment and was hired as a part time cast member. Watching her work always makes me tear up! And on her days off you will often find her in the parks enjoying the magic herself as a guest. The friendships she has made along the way may be the best benefit of all! Their shared love of Disney brings them together, but their genuine love for each other is what keeps them together! The Disney College Program provides a wonderful opportunity for kids to realize their dreams, learn how to work and make magic, and gain independence to help with their future endeavors. And what a great reference to have on a resume’.”
Watching Zack and Jessica over the past two years is living proof that a great life naturally brings more meaning, purpose, love, laughter, wonder and adventure to our days. And, at the end of your journey you would look back on a life of significance rather than regret— knowing in your heart that you left the world a better place than you found it! Knowing that you made a difference in the lives of others and you got something wonderful out of it and gave something wonderful back! A great life, of course is not something we experience, it’s something we create!
But the best part is not just the world they are creating but also the unbreakable bond that has formed between these two inseparable friends as they chase their dreams together. Zack and Jessica, your families could not be any more proud of the two of you. You are living proof to all of us that any dream is possible if you have the courage to pursue it. Always dream big and always remember that the world awaits you- and because of the two of you, it’s truly a magical place in every way. Happy two year Mouseiversary Zack and Jessica. May this be the second of many, many, many years of magic to come.