Disney’s chief Imagineer encourages young man’s dream
It came on an ordinary day, the missive did. Somewhere around nine, an envelope of white with a stamp in the right upper corner was quietly dropped into the box along with the rest of the day’s mail. What set it apart, that rectangular piece, was the logo in the other corner. Standing just to the left of the return address in his trademark red, two-button pants was the world’s most famous mouse. Tail raised, head cocked, he beamed out cheerfully. The chain of events that led to the envelope’s delivery began, as many such things do, with a dream in the heart of a boy. Over the years, he’d fallen in love with the mouse and the story of its creation. It had captured his imagination, and he’d set about studying it with his trademark passion and curiosity. He’d asked for books on the subject for birthdays, reading them intently. He’d watched hours of documentaries. He’d written a research paper on the Kingdom for composition class. For 2D art, he’d recreated the famous castle in pastel chalks. Somewhere along the way, he’d announced that what he wanted more than anything else in the whole, wide world was to be an Imagineer when he grew up. His teachers, hearing it, had applauded, affirming that he had what it took. Eager, not wanting to wait, he’d hatched a plan. He would draft a letter, he said, to the top Imagineer in the Magic Kingdom. You need connections, after all, and you may as well start at the top. That’s what he thought. So saying, he threw himself into research, coming home at last with a name and address carefully tucked in his pocket. “What do you think?” he would query endlessly. “Should I write it out by hand or should I type it up?” “Write it out,” I’d told him. “It’s more personal, and he’ll like seeing that kind of effort and care.” “Should I write it in cursive,” he’d say, “or print it? Should I (this) or should I (that)? Should it be in pen or in pencil?” Finally, after wading through many such should’s and analyzing it from every angle, he sat down at my desk, head bent, and began to write. Late into the night, he wrote, spelling out his hopes and dreams, asking for advice from the man who’d made it to the top. He left it, then, in a prominent place on my desk. “Please edit this, Mom, ’cause I wanna get it sent,” he said the next morning, urgency in his voice.
So Mother edited, polishing it and tightening it up. Once more, he sat down at the desk, head bent, and recopied it, folding that final draft carefully before tucking it into a business envelope. With a lick, a stamp, and not a few prayers, that heart of a boy, drafted laboriously in cursive, began its journey to the West Coast. “How long do you think it will take?” he asked, eager and impatient. “Do you think he’ll write back?” That was day one. Day two followed. “How long…” and, “Do you think…?” Finally, ear drums numb, throat hoarse, I said weakly, “Call the post office. Ask them.” This continued for days. Seeing how hopeful he was and knowing my high-flying dreamer, I tried to prepare him for a rough landing. “I’m sure he’s very busy,” I said, caution in my voice. “Most executives don’t even read their own mail. They have secretaries that sort through it and decide what to pass on. And even if it gets past his secretary, there are no guarantees he’d take the time…” Not wanting to discourage him entirely, I added, “Don’t expect it, alright? That way, you’re not devastated if it doesn’t happen. And if it does happen, it will be a nice surprise.” He nodded reluctantly, understanding, but hoping I’d be wrong. Time went by. Every day, he checked the mail, and every day, he ran the numbers. “Four days out, four days back with a few in between.” Then, one fateful day as I was awaiting his return from school, he burst in through the back door, shrieking, “It came! It came!” Ecstatic, triumphant, he held it aloft. Sure enough. Clutched in his hand was a letter, hand addressed in a Disney envelope, from Mr. Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering. “Dear Jamison,” it began, letters flowing in black ink across the Disney stationery. “Thank you for your letter expressing your passion for becoming an Imagineer.” For two pages, he offered words of encouragement and advice to a young boy many miles away, signing it just as he’d written it – by his own hand. Thinking of that precious letter and its impact on our son, I’m reminded once more of the power of words and, too, the power of dreams. Of the difference that encouragement can make at the seminal moments of our lives. If you’ve received life-changing words, give thanks. And be ready always for the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life by a well-spoken word.