L to R: Maya Burns (McKinney High School), Elizabeth Mielke (Prosper High School) and Marcus Drake (Rockwall High School) represented North Texas at the Disney Dreamers Academy in Orlando, Florida March 3-6. (not pictured: Baani Sandhu)

A total of 100 teens from across the country descended on Walt Disney World in Orlando last week to take part in the 15th annual Disney Dreamers Academy with four of those teens hailing from North Texas.

Maya Burns, McKinney High School (senior), Baani Sandhu UNT Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (junior), Elizabeth Mielke, Prosper High School (freshman) and Marcus Drake, Rockwall High School (junior).

The academy featured an emotional commencement ceremony featuring a speech by four-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and executive producer Kelly Rowland, musical performances by recording artist Mali Music, Kierra Sheard, Disney Entertainment and a moving ring presentation ceremony to mark the teens’ special achievement.

Throughout the four day conference, dreamers received high-level instruction from giants in various industries where they learned important networking skills, participated in hands-on career workshops and created fun memories to cherish for a lifetime.

According to Burns, the skills gained at the conference were invaluable, specifically helping her to hone her skills.

“This experience has been amazing,” Burns said. “I have met celebrities, those who have participated in this program and those who haven’t who have been successful thus far in their career.

“I have learned how to communicate better with people, while clearly and specifically stating what I want for my life. Advocating for myself has been a challenge, but attending this academy has allowed me to be strong in being more confident about knowing what I want for my life, she said.

Burns will be attending the University of North Texas this fall.

The Dreamers Academy brings high school students from across the country from underrepresented communities to expose them to opportunities not normally afforded to them with the goal in mind of relentlessly pursuing their dreams to make a difference in the lives of others and the world.

Sandu is multifaceted as a filmmaker and dancer and is looking to make an impact telling stories that are not popular in culture.

“Of the things I took away from the filmmaking breakout session was to be the change you want to see,” Sandu said. “All of the speakers are telling us that even if they don’t see narratives out there that we would like to see, we are responsible for creating them and that was my main takeaway from all of the speakers.”

Sandu will also attend UNT where she said she will hopefully study film or double major in business and marketing while making films about mental health, women’s rights, South Asian representation in American media.

She will also continue to pursue dancing and shooting music videos.

Not only did the dreamers learn from the various professionals and celebrities on hand to support them and give them advice, but they also had one another to lean on, which is what Mielke said was one of the things she really enjoyed about the academy.

“There are so many brilliant people and students here that I can relate to,” Mielke said. “It’s really cool to meet people your age you have similarities with and also, it’s been cool to meet older people who have business connections that you can call and set things up with. Networking has been a really big part of what I learned so far and definitely what I will take away from this experience.”

Since its inception in 2008, 1,400 students have participated in the career-discovery journey that is Disney Dreamers Academy. Students are inspired to discover new career opportunities, pursue their dreams and go out and change the world in their own unique way.