Jon Linehan and Chas Hodgdon are getting ready to go to college, to UMass—Lowell, this fall.
They already have graduation mortarboards from another college, complete with a bright yellow college tassel.
Twelve months ago, the friends since first grade were preparing to spend a semester in a program that you might know by the image on its program folder: a very famous pair of ears that belong to a very famous mouse. Linehan and Hodgdon both spent a semester in Florida and graduated from the Disney College Program.
Hodgson has gone to the Disney complexes in Florida “every year since I was 6,” he told Woburn Patch. His grandmother, Elaine Willey, works at EPCOT, he explained, sitting last Saturday in Linehan’s livingroom. She's been telling Hodgson about the college internship program “since I was in high school,” Hodgdon said.
Hodgdon was hesitant to leave his family and friends here.
His grandmother said there were a lot of college girls in the Disney college program, according to Linehan.
So the duo decided to apply. Applicants provide college information, Linehan said. Then they faced an on-line assessment, Hodgdon explained, followed by a phone interview. A lot of applicants are turned down, Hodgdon said his grandmother told him.
Both received an envelope in the mail. “Congratulations!” one document begins. “This is your chance to go behind the scenes and learn about the business of making dreams come true.”
“We selected you because you showed the kind of professionalism, enthusiasm and confidence it takes to become a Disney Cast Member.”
So, last August, they packed up and headed for their internships.
Linehan worked as a lifeguard at some of the Disney resorts. Hodgdon handled merchandising at Hollywood Studios on Hollywood Boulevard.
“We went to have fun,” Linehan said.
On the job they had to constantly maintain their image as Disney employees, they said. That means in full costume all time at work; clean shaven; and friendly. Being friendly was drilled into Disney cast members, Hodgdon said.
“You’re at Disney,” Linehan said. “Everybody’s happy.”
Hodgdon dealt with only one unhappy customer during his whole internship. As a lifeguard, for safety’s sake, Linehan had to say “no” sometimes to guests who weren’t following pool rules.
The rules for female Disney cast members were more stringent than for males, according to Linehan: no nail polish, for example, and no unnatural hair color.
Outside of work, your time was your own, Hodgdon said. The two Woburnites lived in an apartment complex at Lake Buena Vista, in one of the housing complexes for students.
Financially, they were guaranteed 30 hours of work a week, Linehan said. From their earnings, they had to pay for rent and food. Interns get into the Disney parks free, Hodgdon pointed out.
Unlike many college students, they didn’t get to come home for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s—and, especially for Linehan, Halloween. Disney sites are open 365 days a year.
“We missed the (city) Halloween parade for the first time in 20 years,” Linehan said.
Christmas Eve was tough, according to Linehan. “You want to be with your family.” He’s the one who usually passes out the presents. He got to Skype with his family on Christmas Day.
Thanksgiving was “fun.” He cooked an 18-pound turkey for friends, and “I got to carve it.”
The duo earned a “White Glove Award” for keeping their apartment clean.
“I take 75 percent of the credit” for that, Linehan said.
“They grew up” as a result of the internship, said Jon’s mother, Karen. Quickly, Linehan agreed. Before their Disney trip, both 2008 graduates lived at home and commuted to school, to Middlesex Community College.
Linehan’s mother got her own package of information about the program, with details like a phone number to reach her son.
At the end of the four-month program, Linehan said he was ready to come home. Hodgdon, who was initially reluctant to go, didn’t want to come back.
If he was to go again, Hodgdon said he would bring money in addition to the money he planned to earn during his internship. Their hourly pay rate wasn’t high, they said, and besides rent, they spent money easily on food.
Already the two are thinking about going back as Disney cast members, after they finish their studies here. As an added incentive—as if they needed one—Disney just started an exchange program, Linehan noted, with Disney facilities in California.