Dreams Do Come True: Meredith Garner Selected as Character Performer for Disney College Program

By Julie Perine on March 31, 2018 via Connect-Bridgeport.com

They say Disney is where kids’ dreams come true, but according to one Bridgeport High School graduate, it’s not just kids.
Meredith Garner just found out this week that she has been chosen as a Character Performer for the Disney College Program, a paid internship that will enable her to become part of the magic for which Disney is known across the globe. 
Being part of that magic a dream which has been in the making for several years.
“I grew up watching Disney movies with my older siblings,” said the daughter of Rod and Monica (Hess) Garner. “We would sing along and immerse ourselves in the stories as if we were actually part of the movie and friends with the characters. From a very young age, I loved the magic of Disney and the hope it inspires.”
Garner said by the time she was eight years old – when she visited Disney for the second time with her family – she knew she wanted to be part of the magic.
“I remember being enamored with watching the parades, performers and feeling overjoyed with the excitement of meeting the characters in person,” she said. “It was a dream come true to visit the parks, to share that experience with my family, and to realize how much joy the Walt Disney World company had spread onto so many people.”
Garner graduated from BHS in 2104 and thereafter briefly attended West Virginia University before happily settling into West Liberty University. After graduating in December 2017 with a B.S. in public relations and minor in advertising, she was looking at her final opportunity to participate in the Disney College Program.
“I applied to the Disney College Program multiple times. I had been rejected by Disney four times prior to getting this offer. I continued to be persistent because I knew it was a dream of mine,” she said. “Participants are eligible for the college program one semester after they graduate, so this was my last opportunity to do it.”
And though all good things come to an end, Garner’s tenure at Disney will hopefully not end at the completion of the six-month internship.
“After the college program finishes, I will have the chance to hopefully work for the Walt Disney company,” Garner said. “I can apply for professional internships specifically focused on my degree and then eventually earn a full-time media relations career with Disney.”
Disney normally hires from within the organization, so participating in the college program will provide Garner opportunity to get her foot in the door, hopefully staying with the organization for years to come. 
Garner leaves for Disney in August and the program will conclude in early-January.
“I can choose to extend my program dates once I'm settled in Orlando to be a character performer until May or I can apply for another job/internship with the company once the (Disney College Program) ends in January,” she said.
She doesn’t have any role studying to do before beginning the program, but she does have to be in good physical shape to keep up with the rigorous activity involved. She will find out more about her assignment when she arrives in August for orientation.
The Character Performer position is just one element of the Disney College Program. After being accepted into the Disney College Program, Garner went on to an audition process earlier this month in Charlotte, NC.
“Originally, I was selected to be a Character Attendant. After auditions were finished, I was then contacted by Disney to be offered a change in roles to become a Character Performer,” she said. “Again, I am beyond humbled and honored to have been chosen as a Character Performer. My heart beats for the stage, and getting this opportunity is an actual dream come true.”
During that memorable trip to Disney when she was eight years old, something happened that Garner will never forget.
“Cinderella walked up to me dressed in a Princess Jasmine costume and asked for my autograph,” she said. “I had accumulated signatures from other characters all over the parks on my Minnie Mouse ballcap and a special Disney autograph book. Never had any of the other characters asked me for my autograph before!”
Excited, nervous - and surprised – Garner said she looked at her dad and asked whether she should sign her name or Jasmine’s.
“My dad smiled and answered, ‘Write whichever name you want,’” she said. “I carefully took the pen out of the beautiful princess's hand and wrote my own name down. It was a very special moment for me and I can't wait to create more special moments for park guests when I'm working there.”
Her upcoming grownup experience at the “Happiest Place on Earth” is a big step for Garner's ultimate career goal – to become a public relations manager or advertising manager in the entertainment industry; be it sports, music, arts, film – or amusement parks.
“I think being able to work at such an advanced corporate/well-known company like Disney could potentially teach me the basic ropes of information in my specified area. After all, it is an internship so I know I will be constantly learning something new daily,” she said.
Garner is very appreciative of the opportunity.
“I owe a lot of my success to my family, friends, and loved ones for their continual love and support,” she said. “And a special thanks to my former dance teacher, Staci Cadalzo. "She is the most supportive, kind-hearted instructor and I am honored to have been one of her students.”
Not being selected by the Disney College Program the first four times she auditioned has not been Garner’s only let-downs during college. During her freshman year at WVU, she auditioned for the dance team and was unsuccessful in that endeavor.
“I was really hurt because I had felt my abilities weren't good enough to be on the team,” she said. “Staci reached out to me and said that a greater opportunity would come my way at the right time. I held onto that piece of advice for years and kept it close to my heart. Continuing to train hard, get stronger and strengthen my skills I am honored to begin my next stage in life as a Character Performer for Walt Disney World.”
Garner wants to share her story so others will keep reaching for the stars.
“The fact that I had persevered, did not back down and continued to work hard makes getting this offer even that much greater for me,” she said. “I learned that rejection is not ever easy to come by, however, any dream can be a reality if you have the right mindset and support.”
Others from Bridgeport have participated in the Disney College Program. Included are BHS alumnae Lauren Trupo, Haley Terango and Christen Shell. Abigail DeFazio, who formerly lived in the city, also participated in the program.

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