Sixteen-year-old Cecilia Smith recently received a first-time honor for Statesboro. Cecilia, who goes by Ceci, found out just before Christmas that she was among 100 students chosen nationwide to attend the Disney Dreamers Academy after winning a Disney Dreamers essay contest. Thousands of high school students enter the contest each year.
In a letter to Ceci’s school administrators, Sarah K. Smith-Barczak, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts event manager, said, “It is our intent to teach the 100 high school students how to Dream BIG and Discover the Possibilities. The weekend will include educational sessions, guest speakers and hands-on learning opportunities through the living classroom of the Walt Disney World Resort.”
The four-day event is hosted by entertainer Steve Harvey and Essence magazine and was founded in 2008 to give students with a dream the tools it takes to let their potential shine through. Dreamers interact with Disney cast members, celebrities, industry experts and community leaders during the event.
Along with her mom, Amy Smith, Ceci will travel to Florida to take part in the Disney Dreamers Academy in mid-March. Guardians attending with winners also take part in classes while there. Ceci’s younger sister Abby and grandparents Bill and Marilynn Sellers will join the family over the weekend for Disney time, too.
Getting the news
The news of winning has the Statesboro High School sophomore celebrating.
“I’m still on cloud nine,” Ceci said. “I’m making a slow descent.”
It was the second year Ceci applied for the prestigious accomplishment.
“Last year after I applied, I watched for the mail every day. This year, I prepped myself that if I get in, fine, but I still have two more years to apply. I put it in God’s hands.”
Ceci’s mom, however, was on mail alert, and when the letter came the day before Christmas, Amy Smith decided to wrap up the acceptance letter with a Disney sweatshirt and other paraphernalia.
“It took a bit to sink in,” Amy Smith said. “She couldn’t believe it was real.”
Ceci said she’s dreamed of being part of the Disney operation from the time she was a little girl. “I’ve always wanted to be an Imagineer performer or an engineer with Disney.”
A longtime dancer with Shay Morgan’s Statesboro School of Dance, Ceci is a dancer and artist and plans to major in some field of engineering.
“I’ve always loved anything Disney, and when I found out some of my favorite book series were Disney produced, then I liked them even more,” Ceci said.
In fact, she referenced her favorite author when filling out the Disney Dreamers Academy application.
“Rick Riordin, the author of the Percy Jackson series, launched me into reading and creative thinking. He is very inclusive with all his characters, and writes them such that everyone has a place and an opportunity. And, to me, Disney does this as they advocate for diversity.
“When I read (Riordin’s) books, I feel like the characters are real people that I could connect to. Riordin’s characters are raw and diverse. Some are more quiet and laid back, like me, and their backstory is appealing, yet they have great opportunities and have main character roles.”
Ceci referenced Disney’s “Star Wars” varied cultural characters with pivotal roles as well as disabled characters in roles.
“No one is discouraged for their abilities.”
Relating to Disney characters
Admittedly shy in school, Ceci said, “I always felt discouraged for having a different personality, for being unique. These characters remind me of myself because they’re sometimes put down because of their differences, for being the shy, timid one, but they learned that they could have a voice and were encouraged to not give up, to follow their dreams.”
Ceci said she still struggles to get past that sometimes, but winning the Disney Dreamers Academy contest has validated her feelings and given her greater confidence.
“For a long time, I’ve wanted a way to connect with the art community. When I got the acceptance, I realized that I am creative enough, that I’m good enough to do this. I’ve started painting rocks with Disney scenes, writing quotes on them.”
Ceci calls them “positivity rocks,” and she plans to put them in various locations around town for others to find.
“I’ve been nervous about putting my art out there, but this is pushing me to do that.”
Many of Ceci’s childhood wishes are already coming true, but she believes that the opportunities provided by the Disney Dreamers Academy will certainly open even more doors for her dreams and plans.