I graduated from the University of Florida with one goal in mind – to be part of the White House public relations team. Perhaps I had seen one too many episodes of West Wing, but I dreamed of standing at that podium. I even moved to DC upon gradation. But I soon discovered the politics side of the whole thing, while fascinating from the outside, was not something I was cut out to be part of.
Nonetheless, there was that dream of being part of the White House Press Pool. Last week, in the most unexpected fashion, that dream was realized – even if only for an afternoon. I was official.
First Lady Michelle Obama was in town speaking at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn in support of Disney’s Hire Heroes initiative at Disney’s Veterans Institute, and in a stroke of good luck (backed up by a lot of hard work) I was invited to be part of the media team to hear her speak.
Listening to the First Lady speak in person is exciting enough, but for me being part of the press team was a full-circle dream come true.
About Disney Veterans Institue:
The day-long Veterans Institute, co-sponsored by Heroes Work Here and Disney Institute, was designed to help companies build effective veteran-hiring programs of their own. The event featured experts from Disney’s Heroes Work Here Initiative, government officials, veterans, and non-profit veterans service organizations, who shared their experiences, best practices, and tips for making a successful transition from the military to the civilian workforce.
Veterans Institute is the latest effort in Disney’s long history of respect and appreciation for the U.S. Armed Services, and leveraged the success of Heroes Work Here, which Disney launched in March, 2012 with a commitment to hire more than 1,000 veterans by 2015—a goal the company has already surpassed. This past March, Disney increased its hiring goal to create opportunities for another 1,000 former service members in the next two years.
Introduced on stage by Disney’s Chairman and CEO Bob Iger Michelle Obama talked about the success of her parallel initiative Joining Forces and shared that 380,000 veterans have been hired in two years as a result of the program, but it’s not enough she said.
“Until every veteran in this country who wants a job has a job, it isn’t enough,” said Obama.
Michelle praised Disney and other big companies like AT&T, Walmart and Starbucks that have each signed a commitment to hire veterans and urged small business to follow their example.
“There are veterans in just about every zip code in this country,” Obama said. “But not every community has a Disney. What every community does have, however, is local businesses like the ones that many of you represent. So companies like yours can actually hire veterans where they and their families live.” said Obama.
Flanked by a stage full of veterans who now work as Disney cast members, Michelle talked about veterans “highly valuable and marketable skills.” A sentiment that echoed the words of the panel of Disney cast members who spoke just before the First Lady about how they turned the former military training into careers at Disney.
The audience, filled with more than 500 people representing more than 300 companies, included my cousin. A former Marine with personal stories about looking for work after leaving the military, who now works as a civilian contractor to Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. An organization that helps ease the transition for employers and reserve members. As a small business owner, my cousin is one of the many taking steps to hire veterans and help other companies to hire those veterans.
Hiring veterans is more than just hiring another employee, it is about supporting their families. And the First Lady said it best, “When you hire a veteran, you’re giving one more American hero a chance to continue serving his country. You’re giving that hero’s family security of a steady paycheck. You’re sending a clear message that we honor others who sacrifice for us, and when they come home, we’re going to have your backs,” said Obama.
And when the first lady finished her speech, she turned to the men and woman behind her and thanked each an everyone for their service.
I was honored to hear her speak about such an important cause, and I hope her words ring true for business owners large and small. Together we can thank veterans for their service in the most meaningful way possible, by helping them support their families.