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Dreaming Big: Life After the Academy

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The sessions are done, the shows are finished, and the trip is over, but the journey towards a successful life is just beginning. The Disney's Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine sent the class of 2012 off inspired, motivated, encouraged, and prepared to start working on their dreams. Students had the opportunity to participate in multiple "deep dive" sessions, workshops with career professionals that gave them a well-rounded look into various professions. On the last night of the Academy, students participated in something called: "Open Mouse," a social mixer where students had the opportunity to mingle and network with industry executives, professionals and one another. It was also a time for students to showcase the work that they had produced while in their deep dive sessions. Presentations ranged from watercolor paintings to dress making to roller coaster design, and there was even a dance piece in the mix. As I talked to the various dreamers, I learned just how in-depth these sessions really were. One young lady reported that in her medical session, she learned about tumors and how the surgical process works to remove them from the human body. How's that for deep?

Although I was not a member of this year's Dreamers Academy class, I still got to participate in some "deep dives" of my own. I conducted interviews with various celebrities, mentors, and several of the Dreamers who were attending the academy. I got to learn the "ins-and-outs" of being a journalist and a filmmaker. I not only conducted the interviews, but I was able to watch the editing process and even see some of the logistical planning and business that goes along with reporting the news. Every single moment was filled with meeting new people, and learning how to be a working journalist. I also had the chance to tell my story as a Dreamer on a panel with executive champion of the Dreamers Academy for Disney Parks and Resorts Ms. Tracey Walters-Powell along with my three fellow alumni: singing sensation Niki Dawson, who took her inspiration from Dreamers Academy all the way to the TV show The Voice, Taylor Thomas, who is now a part of the Walt Disney College Program, and Tevyn Cole, who started a t-shirt company called "School Me."

Through meeting the many celebrities and talking with them, I learned that they were not there just for show or publicity but they came because they had a heart for transferring their knowledge and inspiration to a generation of young people. Celebrities like Terrence J from BET TV's 106 and Park show spent the entire weekend inspiring Dreamers, even when the cameras were not around. This element of selfless giving was even more evident when I had the opportunity to sit down with CNN Anchor and author Soledad O'Brien. After telling her personal and professional story and giving words of inspiration to the Dreamers during Saturday's lunch, Ms. O'Brien left to take her young daughter off for some fun in the Magic Kingdom. However, upon hearing that a couple of aspiring journalist/Dreamers wanted to meet her, she returned later that evening. She was not on program schedule nor did she have any assigned duties, but simply returned to meet and talk to me and Taylor Thomas. What was originally supposed to be a fifteen minute meet-and-greet stretched into almost an hour as she answered our many questions and shared her wisdom into our lives through her own experiences. After Ms. O'Brien left, I was truly in awe at how eager and open she was to invest in our lives. And, I realized that this type of sincerity is woven into every thread of the Disney's Dreamers Academy.

Disney's Dreamers Academy culminated with a commencement ceremony that tied the whole weekend together. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams gave a spirited rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly" which brought the entire room to their feet. Mikki Taylor of Essence magazine encouraged the Dreamers to "clear the weeds of bad friends and other distractions from their lives, and to start planting seeds and making investments into their dreams." Singer Jordin Sparks gave the final address to the Dreamers, right before performing her hit song "One Step at a Time." Five of the Dreamers were awarded Spirit Awards by their peers, and three dreamers walked away with summer internships with Essence magazine and the National Association of Black Journalists. The most touching part of the ceremony, however, was the presentation of the Dreamers class ring, where each dreamer took a moment to embrace their parent or guardian that had invested in them by bringing them to the Academy.

The theme for this year's academy was: The Power of a Dream. As I thought about all the activities that occurred over the weekend, I asked myself: "So what is the power of a dream?" I learned that the power of a dream is the ability to sustain your focus through any circumstance. Having a dream conditions someone to see what is possible, not what is current or "the norm." Having a dream makes someone push past their failures, obstacles, deficiencies and move towards progress, achievement and better living.

I think CNN Education Contributor and school principal Dr. Steve Perry summed it up best when he said, "a dream without action is just sleep."

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