LAKE BUENA VISTA — A year ago, Pasco High School student Sally Campbell knew nothing about the Disney Dreamers Academy, a four-day event at Disney World in Orlando, hosted by Steve Harvey and Essence magazine.
Campbell wrote an award-winning essay as part of her application, but it was her compassionate actions over a series of years that earned her a place in the Disney Dreamers Class of 2018. The high school sophomore was one of 100 teens selected out of 10,000 who applied nationwide.
Campbell applied at the suggestion of her mom, Heather Campbell, who is a language/arts teacher at Centennial Middle School.
She spent the weekend of March 8-11 in the immersive, all-expense-paid academy, learning more about her career aspirations, meeting celebrities and inhaling wisdom.
"You don’t take into account how many people have dreams of their own," she said. "When you come and you see all these people and their dreams, it’s just like wow. It’s really humbling and inspiring."
She deems the "Deep Dives," which were workshops where dreamers received insight and hands-on experience in their planned career field, as the most memorable. They gave her conviction in her plan to become a veterinarian.
"It just really opened my eyes to what path I want to pursue and really allowed me to get a deeper experience and understanding," Sally said. "I really got a hands-on experience with how they treat and feed the animals here, and I got to make a lot of connections with people that have the same interests that I do."
Campbell’s interests go beyond veterinary medicine. She is a student in the Cambridge Program at Pasco High. She plays tennis and soccer and is involved in the school FFA chapter. Her altruistic mission started during her middle-school years, when she began raising money for cancer-related causes in honor of the great-grandmother she was named for, but never met.
Now she is founder and president of the junior board for her own nonprofit, Sallybrating With A Cause, and has raised more than $25,000 for cancer- and animal-related causes. In 2016, she was named the first recipient of the International Day of the Girl Extra Mile Award hosted by the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking for Pinellas/Pasco County.
The weekend sought to inspire students.
With a theme of "Be 100," a reference to being 100 percent authentic, the academy featured inspirational mentoring, networking and entertainment sessions, as well as opportunities to enjoy the theme parks.
Students also heard from celebrities, including singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, gospel star Yolanda Adams and actor Jussie Smollett, who portrays Jamal Lyon on the Fox television series Empire. The guest list also included Black-ish stars Miles Davis and Marshai Martin, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.
Celebrities said they are blessed to be part of the Disney Dreamers Academy.
"To empower a young person with my examples is the best thing because my life is all I know," Adams said. "If I can give someone some pointers on how they can make their lives better and what they can do when they hit a stumbling block or a plateau, I can tell them, ‘Hey sometimes you have to create your own and be the builder of your own destiny.’
Smollett told students their aspirations should extend into adulthood.
"I still feel like a dreamer, so it doesn’t stop just because you’re not a little kid anymore," he said.