*The Disney Dreamers Academy welcomed its 2023 graduates into the Disney family vowing support of its newly minted graduates with the vast resources the diversity leader has to offer. This year marks the 16th year that the Disney Dreamers Academy welcomes its newest class of 100 bright, driven, unique, self-aware, and vibrant students who were selected from across the country by the Disney panel of judges.
The 2023 Disney Dreamers Academy graduates ended the four-day Academy just like they started it – with enthusiasm, reverence, and hope for the future, convicted to change the world through their respective career goals, a sense of empowerment, and a feeling of support through community, and family.
Some Dreamers are already embarking on their career journey by starting their own business before finishing their high school career. This accomplishment alone, tells us that these young men and women are not waiting for an opportunity to start changing the world, they are in fact creating their own pathways.
Take, for example, Audrey Brust, a 17-year-old from Zachary, Louisiana who at the age of 7 years old was diagnosed with Celiac disease and has a passion for creating gluten-free food items. Celiac disease causes the immune system to react when one eats wheat, barley, and rye – hence the need to be gluten-free. Brust creates and sells gluten-free products within her Louisiana community. Not bad for a former Top Chef, Jr. competitor.
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Brust gave an impassioned speech on the Academy’s closing night, sharing her life’s goal to create gluten-free products that can be enjoyed by those afflicted by Celiac disease without worry.
This year’s Disney Dreamer’s Academy kicked off with a high-spirited morning celebration hosted by past Academy graduate Mr. Princeton Parker, who has the distinction of serving as the commentator and host for the four-day event.
The class later enjoyed an afternoon welcome parade at Disney’s Magic Kingdom led by this year’s Disney Dreamer’s Ambassador, Hollywood star, Halle Bailey who also stars as Ariel in the soon-to-be-released Disney film “The Little Mermaid.”
“If it wasn’t for my mentors, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” 2023 Dreamers Academy Ambassador Halle Bailey said. “I’m excited to work with these students and be a mentor for them as they find their passion in life.”
On Day Two, Dreamers were given a Career Academy Expose and Career Deep Dives, designed to explore the Dreamers’ professional passion with the help of mentors in their fields of interest. Deep Dive Topics included: Entrepreneurship and Branding. Graphic Design and Fashion, Imagineering and Engineering, Law and Politics, Media Arts and Communication, Filmmaking and Storytelling, Technology and STEM, Education, National Geographic, and of course Entertainment! The Walt Disney World company is the perfect place for the Dreamers to explore their professional passions in a real-world setting with one of the biggest and most recognized brands in the world.
One of the highlights of Day Two was the interactive talk given by guest speaker and Essence CEO, Caroline Wanga who walked out onto the stage and stood in silence for several minutes before making a deeply personal and profound statement.
“Who you are is who you are. If you cannot be who you are where you are, you change where you are not who you are,” Wanga explained. Her presence is beautifully bold, dynamic, and all-encompassing. Her words and delivery of each were deliberate, intentional, empowering, meaningful, and real.
Wanga shared the power of the word “AND” being multidimensional by not limiting oneself to one thing or career. She also discussed allowing yourself to explore who you are and incorporating all of who you are and what you enjoy into your life’s path.
The Essence CEO shared a personal story about her life as a young high school track star with a goal of competing in the Olympics someday. But life charted a different path for her. She explained that a good friend in high school thought that she might be pregnant and asked Wanga to be her support as she visited a local medical clinic to get a pregnancy test. Both were evaluated, but to Wanga’s surprise, she was the one expecting, not her friend. Her Olympic dreams were dashed, and her path in life changed. She shared that perhaps she would have forged a different path if she had someone to encourage her. Wanga encouraged all to embrace those who may need support and to be mindful of the words you speak because those words could change the course of someone’s life.
Another highlight of Day Two came during the interactive session with Wanga when Dreamer Ava Flanigan was given an opportunity to explore her passion to sing. Flanigan says that while singing is a passion, she felt like it wasn’t supported so she stuck to math and science and began to forge her path to becoming an engineer.
Meanwhile, several Dreamers were selected to participate in the fashion show, held in a ballroom at Disney’s Coronado Springs Convention Center. Flanigan also participated and this is what she says about why branding and portraying the right image of yourself is important.
“Since I was young, people always put labels on me that I wouldn’t necessarily put on myself. They would describe me as uptight or nerdy or quiet, she shares. “ I wouldn’t necessarily use all those adjectives to describe my personality. I feel like labels are very entrapping and for me, they have had an effect on my style. I tend to be more casual and I don’t truly express my personality through my fashion sense.”
Ava Flanigan is a 17-year-old senior at Elite Scholars Academy in Jonesboro, Georgia. She is currently on the path of achieving an associate’s degree in science, with plans to attend Spelman College under their Dual Degree Engineering program. Her many interests include history, anthropology, music, and STEM.
Day Three was action-packed. Fashion Designers Misa Hylton and Jerome Lamaar worked with Dreamers to unlock their personal brand and personal style for the “Put You On” Image Makeover Session sponsored by SPRITE, a Coca-Cola Company. The segment was hosted by the very fashionable Alicia Richardson of Essence.
The program wrapped up this year’s Academy on the fourth day with the Disney Dreamers Academy Commencement Ceremony. All the students/Dreamers were given a 2023 Dreamers class ring presented to them by a parent, guardian, or mentor. It was indeed a moving experience. Dreamers were celebrated with performances by The Walls Group and Pastor Mike, Jr. Inspiration filled the room from start to finish. Tracy Powell, a Disney Executive and host of the commencement celebration shared words of encouragement and wisdom with assurances that Disney is now their family and will always be a support system for them now and in the future.
The Disney Dreamers Class of 2023 is blazing new trails through technology, environmental freedom and justice, racial equality, gender equality, and humanity in the fore. The Disney Dreamers Academy is the perfect place to help these high school dreamers reach their full potential for themselves and our world. The Disney Dreamers Academy was established by Walt Disney World in 2008. The mission is to inspire young leaders to dream beyond imagination by providing life-long access to personalized support for the Disney Dreamers, their caregivers, and the community through insightful content and uplifting experts, mentors, and sponsors. Each year, 100 high school students are awarded a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to experience the immersive and transformational program. So, High Schoolers get that Disney Dreamers Academy application for 2024, next year we could be writing about you!
Tibberly G. Ri’chard is a Louisiana-based writer. Contact her via Tibbgr@aol.com.
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