Salutations, Disney!

Today was my last day at work and, as such, was filled with bittersweet moments. When I got in this afternoon, I was immediately ushered to a goodbye party filled with a Coldstone ice cream cake and signs posted all around the common area saying, "Good Luck at Haavaard!" Along with the cake, I was ceremoniously given some chocolate pudding in honor of the Hasty Pudding, which I need to research more to completely understand, and a going away card signed by our team. I felt very loved and was honored that so many members of the team seemed truly interested in hearing about my upcoming journeys.

At the end of the day, it was definitely sad saying goodbye and giving out those hugs that to me, so often convey a desire to hold on to the time and place that you're at forever, and at the same time, a prayer that the future doesn't change the way that person remembers you (as it always inevitably does...details are blurred, experiences are jumbled and you slowly become a generalization instead of a specification). So before my memories become generalized, I wanted to look back and recount 10 of my favorite moments in my 21 months as a member of the amazing public relations team at Walt Disney World:

10) The very first time I spoke to my future boss Gary, he was calling from Hong Kong and thus dialed my home number at 10 p.m. my time. And while that phone call elicited many memorable moments, perhaps my favorite is when he told me, "You know, I'm going to decide if I like you based on who wins this weekend's football game," (he was a Tennessee Volunteer alum and I a Florida Gator) to which I laughed and he replied, "No, seriously." The Gators did in fact win that weekend, but I think slowly Gary came to like me anyhow. :)

9) Traveling to Disneyland for a publishing project. I got to stay for four nights and five days at the Disneyland Hotel for free so I could experience the theme parks, dining and night life and use that information to help edit and review the Birnbaum Guides (official Disney guidebook brand) for 2009. I had always wanted to go to Disneyland, but never thought I'd be able to swing it on my own dime, and here I was park hopping, dining in the finest restaurants and enjoying the southern California atmosphere at no cost. A true gift!
8) Shadowing my predecessor Sarah Benson at the (then) Disney-MGM Studios and meeting John Tartaglia (of Avenue Q original Broadway cast fame). Granted this memory happened before I was hired, but I felt like a kid in a candy story the whole day: getting taken in backstage at the Studios and entering the park before it was open to day guests; meeting a real-life photographer (David Roark -- whom I later worked with many-a-day); and watching a celebrity whose vocals I had revered for months and whose show I had LOVED on Broadway participate in a photo shoot in front of the hat. And then to have said celebrity shake my hand! I was in heaven (and little did I know I'd meet so many celebrities and come in backstage so many times that it would become commonplace and comfortable by the time I left).

7) Spending a day with the Jonas Brothers before they were the "it" group they are today. During the 2007 Disney Channel Games, the brothers were performing at the concert since they had recently been signed to Hollywood Records, a Disney-owned label. One of the publications attending the games, the teeny-bopper magazine Popstar! asked Disney to arrange for a half-day photo shoot with the boys at Disney's Polynesian Resort. I coordinated the shoot from soup to nuts and spent several hours with Kevin, Joe and Nick in a relaxed setting where they seemed to be just normal guys (normal guys with makeup artists, straightened hair and some of the funkiest clothes I've seen on three teenage guys, but hey, they are rock stars, right?).

6) Having my boss Gary throw random small items at me from Dianne's neighboring cubicle (sometimes it was Hershey's kisses, occassionally M 'n' M's -- it all depended on Dianne's candy of choice for the week) and attempting to fight it off with a fly swatter so kindly passed down to me by said predecessor Sarah (she knew it would come in handy!). Let's just say I passed that same green fly swatter onto my successor Betsy, and I think she made use of it several times as well!
5) Speaking of my successor Betsy, I never thought I'd say this, but passing the torch onto her makes my top 10 list of favorite moments because I gained a great friend out of it. I originally told her that I hoped I wouldn't like her because then I'd have a good reason to begrudge her for "stealing my job." But in the end she was just too sweet to hate and we've become very close friends in the last year. I'm so thankful that she of all people was able to experience when I experienced -- we understand each other and the demands of the job like no one else can!
4) Having the privilege of being with the Dream Squad when the Cinderella Castle Suite was awarded to a family for the very first night. The event coincided with our PR Press Event and I was on reporter duty for the day with the task of sending information back to home base where a press release could be drafted and sent out asap. For this reason I was with the Dream Squad from the beginning of the day when they found the selected family, to the photo shoots with Cinderella on the castle ramps, to the evening when the family was dressed up in royal garb and presented to the entire press event population in a regal stage show. Although I wasn't the one getting the prize, seeing the joy that it brought to this family made me feel the magic as well.

3) Meeting Brad Garrett at the Magic Kingdom. I had worked really hard planning his photo shoot and was thrilled when he offered to take a photo with me. Seriously, this guy was one walking joke -- perhaps one of the most innately funny people I've met -- and so kind, too! It's not often that you meet a celebrity who actually wants to stop, sign autographs and take photos with fans and he did just that. I was truly impressed by his lack of pretense and always secretly prayed for good ratings on his show, 'Til Death, since then.

2) All of the amazing restaurants I got to eat in (California Grill, 'Ohana, Narcoossee's, Flying Fish, Le Cellier, etc.), hotels I got to stay in (Contemporary, Polynesian, Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Saratoga Springs, etc.) and all the amazing extra events I was able to attend (Party for the Senses, Pirate & Princess Party, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, etc.) that I never would have been able to afford had I not been in the position I was. My life was so enriched by working in the roles I had.

1) Attempting to "leave" Disney five times before I successfully made it out alive this afternoon ;) Now don't get me wrong, I never wanted to quit, but I was originally signed on a 9-month contract with an end date of July 27, 2007. This was extended for six weeks while a replacement was found, which was then further extended for an additional 4 days so I could assist on "one last project." Lo and behold, after my third "last day" I was hired on a three-week contract to assist with the Mom's Panel search and after my fourth last day I was subsequently hired three weeks later to work as a publishing consultant in the same office, one desk over. This time though, there's no turning back (for two years at least!). The funny part is that I never once wanted to leave my job and it seems to me as though whatever higher power is out there was keeping me at Disney for a reason -- and the reason seems to be showing itself now (my acceptance to Harvard was probably due in large part to my two years work experience at Disney and my two recommendation letters from Disney co-workers who probably couldn't have provided the same insight had I stayed only the first 9 months).
And now it's time to say goodbye to all my company (I'm exhausted and have a weekend full of packing and errands ahead). See you real soon!

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