Dreams Do Come True

From Disney Make-A-Wish Recipient to Disney College Program Participant

Northern Arizona University
4 min readMar 22, 2024

By Maia Thompson, NAU Junior

The Disney Magic

When my parents first took me to Walt Disney World, I became fascinated by how the amusement park functioned and the process that goes into creating long-lasting memories for its guests.

My interest grew as I visited the amusement park for my Make-A-Wish trip and later for a family vacation during my second year of college.

At this point, I had learned about the Disney College Program (DCP) and planned to pursue it at some point in my college career.

The DCP is set up as an internship and allows college students to work at Walt Disney World for 6–12 months.

Luckily, I had taken advantage of my course requirements during the first half of college and learned that I could graduate a semester early. This meant I had some wiggle room with coursework each semester.

As a student in the Honors College studying strategic communications, I wanted to focus my Honors capstone on learning how a corporate business runs and communicates with its employees.

I was determined to base my Honors capstone about the Disney College Program. In my capstone pitch to the Honors Dean, I briefly explained my connection to Make-A-Wish and my motivation to learn firsthand how Disney makes these wonderful memories for its guests.

In January 2023, I applied for the DCP.

I was accepted a month later.

Disney World Bound

In June 2023, I moved to Orlando to begin my Disney College Program as a lifeguard at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.

I was used to living away from family — however, in college that was a two-hour drive away. This time, I would be living in a completely different state.

The transition was rough since it was the first time I had lived so far away from my family. However, the familiarity of Walt Disney World brought comfort.

Training Process

The training process for the lifeguard position and Disney orientation were two vastly different experiences.

Lifeguard training required a swim test, lifeguard certification classes, and on-site training at the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.

Disney orientation courses were divided into two sessions.

  • Disney Traditions focused on the company’s values and mission statement.
  • Bringing the Magic to Life which focused on company integrity and how to best assist in guest services.

In my training, I learned that no role is superior to the other. Every cast member is a custodian — just because you may be assigned to one role does not mean you are unable to help keep the park clean.

Overall, everyone at Disney is made to be treated equally with the utmost respect whether you are a guest or a cast member.

Once my training was complete, I was excited to officially begin work and create magical memories for guests!

What Make-A-Wish Means to Me Now

Eight years after my Make-A-Wish trip, it remains to be one of my happiest memories.

My hospital stay consisted of many tears and painful moments.

When I first caught a glimpse of Cinderella’s castle during my Make-A-Wish trip, it showed me that I had conquered the darkest part of my life.

The trip taught me that I was strong enough to make a full recovery and experience Disney magic as a survivor of a major transplant surgery.

Today, I credit Make-A-Wish for getting me out of a rough patch and creating the best vacation for my family and me.

Now, as a cast member, I am forever in debt to the organization.

Whenever I engage with a guest, I remember how a cast member went beyond expectation to make my trip special and to make sure to do the same as the roles have reversed.

I am so thankful to Make-A-Wish for inspiring me to follow my dreams — as they very much do come true.

DISCLAIMER: The following are my views and experiences as a Walt Disney World cast member. These views do not represent the Walt Disney Company.



Northern Arizona University

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