This article was first published in the Winter 2021 edition of The Saint.
Four years after graduating from St. George’s School, I found myself once again walking across a graduation stage. This time, I had traded in my navy blazer and Rigg Scholar tie for a teal button-up and a black bowtie. As I progressed down the platform party procession, shaking hands with each member, I found myself being handed a diploma from an individual much shorter than myself—but full of animated life. I was face to face with Mickey Mouse. The past four years had been filled with fireworks, princesses, and even lightsaber duels, but most importantly, memories to last a lifetime. How did this all come to be? To answer that question, we’ll have to go back to my previous graduation.
A LEAP OF FAITH
A multidisciplinary skillset. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was what I was working towards at St. George’s School. Saints provided me with the luxury of choice. Who else can say they knew how to operate a 3D printer, scuba dive, and even tend to colonies of bees… all before Grade 12? I don’t take these opportunities for granted, and I cherish the faculty and staff that made these experiences possible. Those that knew me in high school may remember that I had my hands in many different fishbowls at Saints: a theatre geek (thanks to the invaluable mentorship of Mr. Wisden); a media arts lab rat (thanks to the artistic mastery of Mr. Wilke, Mr. O’Connor, Ms. LeBlanc, Ms. Pavlovic and many more); a frequent member of Mr. Kay’s technology labs; and a founding member of Mr. Crompton’s Maker Club. I also had a passion for storytelling, which was fostered by the incomparable Mrs. Matthews. What is one to do with a multidisciplinary skillset? Pursue a multidisciplinary degree perhaps.
Industrial Design involves the development of products, systems, services, and experiences. Industrial Design was brand new to me—I had never heard of it before, and none of my peers were going into it in university. Against all odds, I decided to stick with my gut and choose a university that felt like the right fit. I prioritized this tentpole notion over prestige, and I have yet to regret it. Industrial Design ended up being perfect; at Carleton University in Ottawa, I’ve had the chance to design toys, museum exhibits, mobile apps, and even robots for the International Space Station. I was totally in my element. Thanks to the skills I had learned in arts classes through the years, and several lunchtimes in the Learning Commons, I had a robust, multidisciplinary skillset on day one that equipped me with a balance of artistic composition and technical know-how. However, something was still missing. At St. George’s I was both a “design kid” and a “theatre kid”. I was itching to get back on stage. Enter, The Walt Disney Company.
A CAST OF CHARACTERS
The teachers at Saints may recall I had a fairly avid obsession with Disney. Growing up, I used to dream about being an animator, working on the next whimsical theatrical release. After a few months in university, Disney came back into my life in an unexpected way. Another Old Boy tipped me off to something called the “Disney College Program”—a three-month work-abroad program at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It seemed too good to be true. None of my classmates knew about it. In fact, nobody at my school seemed to know about it. Once again, I went with my gut and took a leap of faith. As soon as I turned 18, I submitted a general application: I was willing to do anything. Working at the most-attended theme parks in the world? How cool would that be? After a thorough screening and interview process, I was hired as a performer for Disney Parks and Resorts. The essential teachings of Mr. Wisden prepared me for the most unexpected role of a lifetime, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I returned to Disney the following summer in entertainment, and my collective summer experiences ended up landing me a full-time internship at Disney Parks Live Entertainment—the creative design house that dreams up the next generation of theme park parades, firework shows, and even characters. I added a year to my undergraduate degree to pursue my dreams, actively combining the disciplines of performing arts and design with every project that I took on. And, while all good things eventually come to an end, I have a feeling this is just the beginning of my journey in the entertainment industry.
A GREAT, BIG, BEAUTIFUL TOMORROW
In these uncertain times, I often find myself falling back on the things I know will remain constant. For me, that is an unwavering passion for storytelling and delivering experiences that create memories to last a lifetime. One of the most rewarding parts of my time at Disney was having the opportunity to walk out into the Theme Parks and see the look on the thousands of faces my work has touched. The other constant is a focus on being true to myself. Take some time to know who you really are, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and what truly inspires you. Allow that to influence the choices you make—even if it involves you straying away from the mainstream. It’s okay to be a jack of all trades, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Find those sparks—in whatever activities they may be—and dare to dream.
And, while I have yet to receive my official undergraduate diploma, I have three ‘MOUSEters’ degrees from Disney under my belt. I have fond memories of my time at Saints and with Mickey and the gang. I look to the future with assurance and optimism.