My last day as a Walt Disney World employee involved portraying one of the largest displays of public sadness I can remember from my adult life. This January marked 10 years since those Disney days. And, I celebrated it back in the wonderful world of Disney with my former College Program (“CP”) employees, who I proudly still call friends.
In 2004, I had applied to Walt Disney World’s College Program (WDWCP), which meant taking a semester away from my university to practice job skills in the Land of the Mouse. Recruiters had placed me on the Animal Kingdom’s Operations team (my first choice) at three different attractions – “It’s Tough to Be A Bug,” “Pocahontas” and “The Festival of the Lion King.”
My responsibilities included everything from crowd control to organizing strollers (or “BUGgies”) to teaching show audiences how to hand jive to Hakuna Matata. Mostly, my job was to make sure everyone had “a magical day.”
Because Disney’s main mission is to ensure the happiness of all guests, it allowed me to get creative as an employee. Upset because you dropped your Mickey ice cream bar on the ground? Here’s a VIP pass to The Lion King to brighten your day (cue smile). And, because my coworkers’ missions were also to create happiness, we found ourselves, overall, having pretty happy days.
Plus, we had access to microphones. And, microphones make everything more entertaining.
Disney has an impressive and complex staffing system, which includes a combination of full-time, part-time, seasonal and CP employees. Everyone is placed together with assigned roles and responsibilities, which I loved because it allowed us to meet and learn from people of all ages and backgrounds. Our CP group, however, connected at an even deeper level, because we had been in Florida for the sole purpose of working at Disney World. We didn’t have families to return to at night, or really any responsibilities outside of our Disney worlds at all. So, our lives involved working in the parks (which was fun), and then usually visiting other parks after work together (which was fun).
Needless to say, our lives these days were stress-free and…well, fun.
Disney does not offer any official perks for CP alumni. We’re handed Mickey ears with a graduation tassel then, more or less, clock out of the system, turn in our uniforms and take our last stroll through the employee exit. But, in 2010, we pulled off what many people never act on past bar talk. We used the combined powers of social media and our craving for a little Disney magic and organized our own five-year CP reunion. We booked a hotel room on Disney property, bought our plane tickets and spent a long January weekend reunited in the place we had all met and left together five years before.
Then, this January, we did it again. We gathered a group from four states (the fifth had to cancel last minute) and two countries and returned for another self-made reunion. There we were, a group of five 30-somethings roaming the parks giddily clapping at the sight of Chip ‘n’ Dale, mimicking the memorized hand motions of parade performers and mapping out every major attraction in advance to ensure we would not miss a beat. We even made our own hot pink and green WDWCP t-shirts.
Even 10 years later, many of our permanently employed former coworkers were still spreading their Disney magic in the parks. We snapped photos with every familiar face we saw, got VIP treatment to our favorite shows and, at The Festival of The Lion King, were even recruited to teach the audience the hand jive for old time’s sake.
While I could make skeptical comments about social media and its impact on our generation, I will commend it immensely for what it has done for the many groups of friends I’ve made while traveling the world. Facebook, here’s a bone for you…thank you for keeping us connected.
In hindsight, I realize leaving Disney World was the first time I had to separate from a group of friends that I might never see again. Because the College Program attracts employees from all around the world, my friends and I would not be simply heading back to our respective universities. We would be returning to separate states, countries and continents.
On our last night together in 2005, we watched Wishes, the Magic Kingdom’s main fireworks show, continuing our public display of sadness by spreading tears all over Main Street. This year, we stood in our favorite viewing spot again, this time shedding a few tears of happiness (one of us actually bawling like a baby). We had all met one another in a magical world. And, we had made it back there together 10 years later. I knew when I applied to the College Program that it would be a life-changing experience. I was just lucky enough to have been placed with people who loved the magic as much as me.