Wednesday with Walt: The Gift of Mentorship

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Family Museum

“A lot of young people think the future is closed to them, that everything has been done. This is not so. There are still plenty of avenues to be explored.” – Walt Disney

Next week, my baby boy will graduate from high school. This is a bitter-sweet time for me as I realize that the long chapter in my life of raising three children is coming to an end. Still, I look forward to what he will become and how he has his whole future ahead of him to make of it what he will. Feeling so nostalgic of the past and yet looking forward to the future reminds me of a great man who invested in the future of the youth of the 1950s; one in particular.

Walt Disney was what people have referred to as a “nostalgic futurist.” He absolutely treasured the past, which you can see every time you visit Main Street USA or Frontierland; but he was also very concerned about tomorrow. In his latter years, he became increasingly interested in preparing the next generation for the future. He and his brother, Roy, invested money in schools like CalArts, but his conviction to this was much more hands-on than donating money to schools.

In fact,Walt was so interested in trying to help the youth of the 1950s succeed in the future, that he called the Drama teacher at Santa Monica High School and asked her for the names of promising students in the graduating class. She gave him the name of Ken Wales.Walt personally invited Ken Wales to come and be his guest at the studio. For an entire week, Ken met, worked, and ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner with Walt Disney. Walt mentored Ken, showing him everything about filmmaking.

Today, Ken says that he learned a valuable lesson from Walt and that was “that we should not merely dream big – we should dream beautifully.” In How to Be Like Walt, by Pat Williams, Ken is quoted as saying that “Walt’s films are timeless because they are full of imagination, values, warmth and delight.”

After spending the week together, Walt awarded Ken with the first Walt Disney four-year scholarship to study filmmaking at USC. Ken graduated with honors from the School of Cinema at The University of Southern California. He has had a very successful career and has continued to pay forward the investment by teaching upcoming filmmakers.

Basically, what Walt gave Ken was a headstart on a bright, successful future. But this wasn’t just a headstart. Walt invested his time and energy into something he truly believed in. The gift isn’t always in what you know, but your ability and willingness to share it with others. Ken was very appreciative to Walt, and they remained friends for years to come.

As my son graduates, I think of what a dream it must have been for Ken’s parents to have someone like Walt Disney invest in their son’s future. I wish every child could have someone thoughtfully helping them along in accomplishing their goals for the future. Knowing absolutely nothing about astronomy, I have actually been Josh’s student as he shares his interest in space with me.

Walt had a gift to mentor, teach, train and coach young people toward the success of the future of our world. I wish that everyone who possesses a vast knowledge of a particular subject would take Walt’s lead and mentor a student. Walt involved himself in the lives of people; he lived for the next generation.

For my son, Josh, I will share the advice Ken learned through his wonderful experience with Walt. Don’t merely dream big – dream beautifully! I love you so much, son. Congratulations!


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