Dreaming Big with Disney

By CATHRYN CARTWRIGHT,

Local high school student Sarah Elizabeth Hardy recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to the Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Hardy said each applicant was asked to write three, brief, one-paragraph essays about themselves, their future goals and what it means to be a dreamer.  The essays were judged by a panel of professionals from the Dreamer's Academy and applicants were notified of acceptance by Jan. 1.

Out of over 10,000 applicants, only 100 high school students in grades 9-12 were selected to attend the all-expense paid event.  Hardy was also the only student selected from Mississippi.

"We were told by one speaker that, statistically speaking, the odds are better to get accepted to Harvard than to be chosen as a Disney Dreamer," said Hardy.

Hardy was able to attend the Disney Dreamer's Academy from March 7 until March 11.  Her mother, Melanie, was able to attend the event also as a chaperone, and they both enjoyed the airplane rides from Jackson to Atlanta, and then on to Orlando.

The Disney Dreamer's Academy is designed to help unlock the potential of young people and enable them to imagine their futures through inspirational leaders who show how to set goals, make plans and dream big.  By introducing participants to inspiring professionals, Dreamers have the opportunity to experience success and imagine it for themselves.

Hardy said that the four-day event kept her busy.

"The staff had a schedule for us that kept us busy from sun up to nearly midnight each day," she said. "We heard numerous motivational speakers that encouraged us to reach our dreams, took 'Deep Dives' with specialists in our future fields of study, and networked with professionals and celebrities in a variety of fields."

Because she is interested in the field of Psychology, Hardy's "Deep Dive" was in the medical field. She learned about filling a prescription, performed sutures on a pig's foot, created her own lotion, and learned about the amount of sugar in different drinks.

Hardy also got the opportunity to take a tour of some Disney Parks such as Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and the Magic Kingdom; meet her favorite Disney character, Princess Ariel; view a special premier of the new movie A Wrinkle in Time; and participate in a parade through the Magic Kingdom.

"I was privileged to meet comedian Steve Harvey, author Lisa Nichols,  motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles, Grammy Award winner Yolanda Adams, Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter, singer Ne-Yo, motivational speaker Dr. Alex Ellis, motivational speaker Dr. Steve Perry, actor Jussie Smollett, author Sonia Jackson Myles, business women Brandi Harvey and Karli Harvey-Raymond, entrepreneurs William Thomas and Derek Barziel, magazine editor Michelle Ebanks, President of Disney World George Kalogridis, The View co-host Sunny Hostin, Vice-President of Operations at Disney World Tracy Powell, and so many more," she said.

Hardy said that the most important thing she learned at the program was to be original, be committed, be bold, be confident, be innovative, be the hero of your own story, and be the change you want to see in this world.

Being surrounded by so many successful young men and women from around the country was the biggest challenge for Hardy.

"It took me a while to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people," she said. "But once I did, it was absolutely amazing."

Hardy said that her mother was among other parents at the event, but that they did not get to spend much time together during the week.

"We did get to spend the last day together at the closing ceremony where parents were given rings to present to the Dreamers as a sign of commitment in helping them realize their dreams," she said.

Going forward, Hardy said that she is inspired to work hard to make her dream of becoming a psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons become a reality.

"I want to use my light to help others shine brightly," she said.

Hardy encourages students in grades 9-12 to learn more about the program at www.disneydreamersacademy.com and to apply if they want to learn how to make their dreams turn into realities.

She also wanted to give special thanks to Mrs. LeAnne McGinty for introducing her to the opportunity of a lifetime.

"I will forever be grateful to everyone who took part in making this a magical experience for all involved," said Hardy.