One hundred high school students from across the country recently celebrated the conclusion of the 16th annual Disney Dreamers Academy with an emotional commencement ceremony at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The concluding event for the four-day mentorship program—geared toward broadening career awareness and creating opportunities for Black students and other teens from underrepresented communities across the U.S.—featured an inspirational speech by Grammy®-nominated singer and actor Halle Bailey, who plays Ariel in the upcoming live-action reimagining of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
“You are a living being with not just the ability to dream, but the abilities to make your dreams a reality,” said Bailey, Celebrity Ambassador for the 2023 Disney Dreamers Academy. “And no one taught you to dream. There is no book for that. You dream simply because you are meant to, and what is meant for you is already yours.”
She continued, “As a little girl, my big sister and I would rewatch The Little Mermaid movie over and over again. We would learn all the songs, and every time we would swim in the pool, we would pretend we were a mermaid—and [we] fell in love with the story over and over. So, when I see little Black and brown girls and boys—and, indeed, everyone—so excited for our live-action adaptation, I cry every time, because I think back about those two little girls swimming in the pool in Atlanta, Georgia, and starting to believe in something big.”
This year’s class was selected from thousands of applicants to participate in the mentoring program, which includes an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World for each student, along with a parent or guardian. Created and hosted by Walt Disney World, the annual event included empowering sessions from a host of celebrities; performances from Disney Live Entertainment; and a moving ceremony to mark the teens’ special achievement at the event’s conclusion.
“We want every single Disney Dreamer… when they’re here at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to dream,” said Tracey Powell, Vice President of Travel Services/Pricing and Revenue Management, Walt Disney World and executive champion of Disney Dreamers Academy. “But not only dream, we want them to dream so big and so wide that they wouldn’t even be able to hold it. They are so inspiring… and we want to just introduce them to different types of careers and to be able to mentor them.”
The Dreamers Academy also featured unique experiences and special surprise moments for the teens. All participants enjoyed the chance to be part of a magical parade at Magic Kingdom Park with Bailey. Several also experienced the new attraction TRON Lightcycle / Run presented by Enterprise ahead of its official opening on Tuesday, April 4.
There were also “dream come true” experiences. Three teens interested in pursuing music careers got a surprise visit from Grammy Award-winning artist H.E.R., who gifted each teen with an autographed guitar. Two students who are aspiring filmmakers were surprised by Bailey with a personal invitation to join her on the red carpet at the upcoming world premiere of the live-action reimagining of Disney’s The Little Mermaid in Hollywood. Another student who is interested in a broadcast career was surprised by ABC’s Good Morning America, which invited the teen to take part in an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the show from its New York studios.
Madison Henderson, one of the two filmmakers invited to the red carpet premiere, said, “The Disney Dreamers Academy has been amazing. It’s just been a chance for me to capture my dreams and go for my ambitions and be able to do what I want to do with my life. I want to be either a novelist or a playwright or a screenwriter, so being able to meet an actress and be near that field has just been amazing.”