About a year ago I was sitting in my apartment’s office working my desk job with Alice in Wonderland playing in the background. A resident walked in and giggled at my choice of movie and asked if I’d ever applied to or done the Disney College Program. The Disney College Program? What in the world was that? I told the girl I’d never heard of it and that’s when she began telling me all about the six months she’d spent working in the most magical place in the world. She said that sadly applications for the upcoming fall program had just closed but in about two months the applications for the spring program should be coming out. Little did I know, that conversation would be the start of a whole new, magical chapter in my life.
I spent hours pouring over YouTube videos and blog posts about the college program. I read everything from what to pack to how you should spend your day in the parks. Then I presented my crazy idea to my parents. I’m super grateful for parents that push me to do the things that I think I’ll never even be considered for or that I’m not ‘good enough’ for. When I told my mom the first thing she said was, “When do you apply?”. And when I told my dad the first thing he said was as long as I wasn’t friends with Tinkerbell when she flew over the Magic Kingdom he was okay with me doing it.
Then applications dropped. I nervously submitted my resume and prior experience and waited. Then about twenty minutes later I got an e-mail that I’d been selected to do the web based interview. That same day, I completed my web based interview and was approved to move onto the phone interview. After several weeks of waiting I had my phone interview the day after my 21st birthday and continued to wait. I nervously watched as people on the Disney College Program page I was a part of got their acceptances and I was still waiting. That’s when Friday September 23rd came along. I was accepted to the Spring program in Walt Disney World.
After that day the rest of my semester was a whirl-wind. I somehow found someone to sublease my apartment to, made it through finals, still concentrated on school, and was busy with my organizations. But all of my free time was dedicated to Disney. I spent hours reading posts on the Facebook pages and watching more YouTube videos. What I could never put my finger on was why people were talking about never wanting to leave and how much of an impact this program had on their life. Yes, it was working for Disney and yes, for most of us it meant relocating to a new state, but it was a minimum wage job. What could I possibly gain from that? Oh sweet innocent, Megan. How little you knew then.
I found seven other girls excitedly anticipating their college program on the Facebook pages and spent way too much time texting with them giddy with excitement each day. When housing applications finally dropped I was working an 8 hour shift at the grocery store and Katie was passed out asleep in bed from long shifts at Express. It turns out that the max number of people you could pair with was 6 and Katie and I had missed being able to pair with the girls we had been talking to. And honestly, Katie and I hadn’t seemed to be the best pair from the group chat. She loved Panic! and I’m admittedly not their biggest fan. I love Taylor Swift and probably sounded like her biggest night mare.
Chatham 7101, oh how you are filled with memories. From our living room flooding and maintenance bringing in industrials vacuums to get rid of the water to screaming in the middle of the night when we spotted a lizard scury across the floor in our bedrooms. It was knowing that there was always someone in the apartment to explore the parks with or simply stay in and have a Disney movie marathon with. It was looking up from the kitchen table and seeing a Transtar bus stuck in the bushes across the street and getting home late at night and talking about the crazy day we’d had. It was having friends that also loved eating raw cookie dough and people that also always had chips and salsa on hand. It was excitedly pulling up to Chatham waiting for the security guy to exclaim, “welcome home, ladies!”.
While we might have been a bit afraid of living together with the whole Panic!/Taylor Swift thing, I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate. Katie, thank you forever for being my MK roommate, just as we had plastered on our doors. Thank you for late night, early morning, and mid day food runs. I can’t imagine getting lost in Orlando with anyone else, at least we realized how close we lived to SeaWorld from one of our first failed attempts to get to Magic Kingdom without Google Map’s assistance. I’ll never forget our excitement to move to Chatham 6202 because it meant we’d no longer hear washer and drier doors slam at all hours of the night and would no longer hear people sharing way too personal stories in the laundry room on the other side of the wall. Thanks for introducing me to Hawaiian pizza, giving me a new appreciation for all things Bachelor, and always staying awake so we could rant about our day at work. Here’s to surviving our disgusting sink, late night Wal-Mart trips, never remembering what my car looked like, throwing yourself into the ocean each and every time we went, not realizing we weren’t following each other on Twitter for 6 months, and dumpster diving for your keys. I’ll never forget complaining about our work day and hearing “shots, shots, shots, shots!” coming from the room above us and how hilarious we found it because at least someone was having fun that day. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me a roommate that I sobbed with when it finally came time to not say goodbye, but see ya real soon.
“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” -Winnie the Pooh
I was blessed enough to call Fantasyland my home. Every day I got to wear a purple princess dress that Rapunzel herself designed for me and pixie dust little girls as I excitedly announced, “with a little faith, trust, and pixie dust, may all of your dreams and wishes come true!”. I’ll never forget the little girl who looked at me in awe and said, “mommy, look! Rapunzel’s hair does grow back blonde!” or the little girls I talked to before they met Rapunzel and Tiana whose mom found me after the meet and greet and said, “I just wanted to let you know that my daughters called Rapunzel a fake because they think that you are the real Rapunzel.” (this was even after I’d told the little girls I was a royal citizen of Fantasyland and that Rapunzel had designed my dress, but that I was not Rapunzel) There were the guests who genuinely thanked me for making magic for them on their vacations and the guests who cried because they appreciated magical conversations with cast members. While yes, there were the guests who weren’t so magical, the crazy lines during poncho rush, the people who didn’t plan their Disney vacations at all, and the guests who you wondered how they chose Disney as a vacation destination, the good guest experiences always outweighed the bad guest experiences.
My Fantasyland Family, who is affectionately called the Fan Fam, was always there for me. I’ll never forget looking at the girls whose college program was coming to an end and thinking to myself that they were the kind of cast member I wanted to be. They made magic for the guests, knew how to fluff the princess dresses perfectly, and some how got their stores fully stocked early in the night. I’ll miss having stock lists that would be covered in sparkles and had all of the princesses’ names on it. It was Lexi storming through the door to tell about the latest crazy thing that happened to her, Meghan doing the MISI dance again, Sierra twirling through Sir Mickey’s in the purple princess dress, Betzy wearing her tiara at all times, Chelsea teaching all of us newbies how the ropes worked at Disney, Megan always bragging to me about how she never had stock shifts, Kayla somehow making it through 8 hour shifts in heels (I forever give you props, girl), Brooke always making the most magical moments for guests, questioning how Lindsey would get a shift that wasn’t stocking, and all of us somehow managing to keep Fantasyland from falling apart. It was our coordinators who told us that while our journey was ending, Disney would always be home. Thank you Virgil for laughing when I wanted to sing Frozen before we re-opened Castle’s doors, the Amanda’s for always making us laugh, Aimee who always encouraged me to follow my dreams and loved my crazy stories, Tony who always pushed us to make the best, most magical moments for our guests, realizing that I had “made it” as a cast member when Brad seemed to actually like me, and Ali who always let us talk about how crazy it could get in the land. It was these people and this family that brought so much magic to my experience. They all truly pushed me to be the best cast member I could be and kept me going to make the most magic I could for the guests, myself, and my fellow cast members.
Thank you Disney for allowing over 3,000 bright eyed and bushy tailed college students to move to Orlando and experience the magic that is your company. Thank you for allowing us to learn about the magic behind the scenes and how much hard work goes into making such magical experiences for the guests. Thank you for showing us the importance of carrying on Walt’s legacy in a company he poured his heart, soul, mind, and time into. For showing us that strong values are the building blocks for a brand and is what will bring people back. Thank you for sharing with us your passion for the company and telling us that with a little faith this company can take us further than we ever imagined.
Thank you for giving me a renewed sense of confidence in myself, my abilties, and my dreams for the future. At college it’s easy to get down on a grade that was lower than you expected or an overall class grade that wasn’t as amazing as you thought it would be. It’s easy to start thinking that that lower than expected grade is what defines you and what you can do in the future. Thank you for showing me that I’m so much more than a class grade or a cumulative GPA. That it’s my work ethic, my determination, my drive, my eagerness to learn and improve, and my knowledge that will get me further in any career I might find.
Thank you, Disney, for teaching me the values of a brand. As a marketing major and brand nerd myself I can’t begin to describe how much I learned about branding and customer service by working for your company. It was incredible to learn the values that Walt built his company on and to see how those values are still being carried on in the company to this day. It was learning how every aspect of the company has so much influence on the brand and how it’s portrayed. It was learning that this brand really did start with a mouse and now we are here.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I had laughed reading some of the comments people had on the program. I didn’t understand how a minimum wage job could make such a difference in someone life, how it could challenge them, and how they could not want to leave. Fast forward to me extending my program that should have ended at 4 months to 6 months long, crying over seeing the new hires getting trained and you’d give anything to go back to that, realizing how much this program has made you grow and stretch, and forever wishing you could have just one more day working in the parks because all you want to do is make more magic.
So Walt, here’s to you. Thank you for making my dreams come true. And I promise, I’ll never loose site of them and I’ll always do as dreamers do.
“And so our journey comes to an end, but yours continues on. Grab hold of your dreams and make them come true for you are the key to unlocking your own magic. Now go, let your dreams guide you. Reach out and find your happily ever after.” -Happily Ever After Fireworks Spectacular