Courtesy of Freepik
An entire generation was raised on Disney Channel shows like “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “Hannah Montana” and “Cory in the House.” Now, many members of that generation are sitting in college classrooms across the nation, nostalgically humming the shows’ catchy theme songs.
Madison Swan, a junior majoring in music, said she looked forward to tuning into her favorite shows as a kid, and in a way, they raised her.
“[Disney Channel] was what I looked forward to every day after school, and I interacted more with that than I did with my friends,” Swan said.
Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2015) grew up in front of a TV, reading teen-centered magazines like TigerBeat and watching a golden age of YouTube.
Millennials and Gen Z developed a close bond with Disney’s programming. Their lives were saturated in pop culture, so much so that many feel their catchphrases, personalities and senses of humor were influenced by Disney’s character.
“I always say I saw Miley Cyrus more than my own siblings. I was raised on ‘Hannah Montana’ and the Jonas Brothers,” said Laura Dee, a UA alumna.
For some, Disney served as more than entertainment. Brenda Song taught kids how to eat healthier on “Pass the Plate.” Demi Lovato showed kids the importance of being themselves.
Many Disney Channel stars have recognized the influence that the channel’s programming had on Gen Z and millennials.
“It’s an honor to hold a special place in the hearts of the kids that grew up on our show and the other shows on Disney that I’ve had the opportunity to appear [in],” said John D’Aquino, who played President Richard Martinez on “Cory in the House.”
The recent advent of streaming services has made it easier for people to dive into the shows of their childhood.
“I still love watching Disney. It feels different than when I was a kid, but I still love it,” said Damon Sweetin, a junior majoring in music. “It is nostalgic and reminds me of my childhood.”
And even though these children have grown, D’Aquino said they still hold a special place in his heart.
“It’s important that they feel good about the direction of their lives and that they know they can achieve their dreams if they believe in themselves and are willing to never quit,” D’Aquino said.
The nostalgia came full circle for many Disney fans when the Jonas Brothers embarked on a reunion tour in 2019.
Kat Sharp, a senior majoring in theater, went to their 2019 concert in Atlanta, Georgia. Sharp said she loved their music as a child, so the concert felt like a full-circle moment.
“The little nine-year-old girl in my heart was living her absolute best life at that concert,” Sharp said.