It’s a normal Saturday afternoon at Walt Disney World.
Little kids light up as they walk into the park and see all their favorite Disney characters in person. Families come together to enjoy a day at Typhoon Lagoon. All the while, college students are working at the parks as characters, lifeguards, waiters and other various roles.
Two of Belmont’s students, Clark Waggoner, a junior business management major, and Sally Ann Jones, a sophomore music major, are working at Walt Disney World through the Disney College Program this semester.
“For me personally, I have always wanted to work for Disney and I thought this would be a good chance to get my foot in the door,” said Waggoner. “They’re a Fortune 500 company and that just looks really good on a resume.”
The Disney College Program allows full-time college students from all over the world to work a full-time job at Walt Disney World, with the option to take classes and attend weekly seminars. Waggoner is working as a deep water lifeguard at Typhoon Lagoon.
“Lifeguards have the longest training out of any cast member due to the safety of the guests,” said Waggoner. “The first day we get here, the lifeguards have to do a swim assessment to see if they can swim 200 meters, tread water for two minutes and pick up a brick from eight feet without their head going below their knees. If you pass that, you qualify to be a deep water lifeguard.”
Waggoner is normally stationed at the wave pool or the shark reef, but he is not supposed to call his shifts at these places work or his job.
“We don’t say jobs,” said Waggoner. “Everything is show related at Disney. So like it’s not my job, it’s my role. It’s not my uniform, it’s my costume. It’s not my work, it’s my stage.”
Jones chose to work in entertainment once she was accepted into the program.
“I had to go through a bunch of training just to be in entertainment and be with the characters,” said Jones. “It was really nerve wracking because they could have disapproved me at anytime.”
Luckily, they never did disapprove Jones. She said she works in entertainment at Disney, but could not give away her specific role.
“I can tell you that I hang out with Pluto, Rafiki, Ariel and Anna from Frozen,” said Jones.
Jones is working her dream job.
“It has always been a dream of mine to work for Disney, and the college program gave me a chance to go down and not have to sign a six month contract just to do it for a semester,” said Jones. “It gives you the opportunity; if you want to stay after you can go full time, part time or seasonal. So it is just a really great opportunity.”
In addition to working a full-time job, Jones and Waggoner have the opportunity to take classes and seminars.
“With the seminars, there’s no homework,” said Waggoner. “You meet once a week for like two hours, and you get to listen to someone speak about their experience. It’s generally some kind of speaker. For me, I’m taking Leadership with Disney and Guest Relations with Disney.”
Although they are working at Disney World, both Jones and Waggoner work long hours, and it is not always easy.
“It’s really hard work,” said Jones. “People think that I’m just down here playing all the time and just spending my life in the park. But really the work that I do is super tough. But when the little kids light up when they see you, it’s so worth it.”
Jones and Waggoner did not even get a spring break. Instead, they worked more hours during the spring break rush.
“I doubt I’ll ever be able to get more than three days off,” said Waggoner. “Starting sometime in March, we are going to be working even more, because we want to be sure we will be able to accommodate everyone else’s spring break.”
When they do get a day off, Jones and Waggoner can visit any Disney park for free.
“I can go to any Disney park or water park for free,” said Waggoner. “It’s awesome. It’s really nice to have that option, like, ‘Today sucks, let’s go to Magic Kingdom.’”
Waggoner admits that going to the parks for free is one of his favorite parts of the experience.
“My favorite part is the fact that I can go to any park whenever I want and meeting new people,” said Waggoner. “For the most part, everyone here is what you would call a Disney person, like a nice, genuine, good person.”
The Disney College Program is made up of students from all over the country and all over the world.
“One of the friends I made in lifeguard class was from China,” said Waggoner. “One of my roommates is from Cuba. I’ve met someone from almost every continent, I want to say.”
The hard work and long hours are worth it for the two Belmont students.
“I feel like this is really what I am supposed to be doing, and that it’s part of God’s plan right now,” said Jones. “I feel so blessed to work for this company. I really feel like I am at the place I need to be.”
Although Walt Disney World has become a part of Jones’ and Waggoner’s everyday routine, the magic of it all has not gone away.
“I have come pretty much every other year since I was a little girl,” said Jones. “Some people would say seeing everything behind the scenes and backstage would ruin the magic for some people. But ever since I’ve been here, it’s just increased it even more. It’s been so fun watching how some things are done. It’s definitely increased my awe factor.”