Today, EPCOT Center turns 30 years old. In Walt Disney World, celebrations are already underway as many of the EPCOT Center aficionados have made their pilgrimages to central Florida to be there on this important day. But why? Not considering the fact that this is a Disney anniversary, which will always draw a crowd, what is it about this park, either currently or in the collective hearts and minds of its fans, that resonates so deeply? Why does it matter?
I am a scant 6 months older than EPCOT Center, which puts me at the heart of the key EPCOT Center demographic–or, Tomorrow’s Children, as I like to call us. You see, we were the ones who the original EPCOT Center was built for. Sure, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles would love EPCOT too, but it’s true purpose was for us. The children.
Whereas the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland were built to entertain and evoke a sense of childhood and fantasy, EPCOT Center was built to change the world. Earlier I referred to “Tomorrow’s Children.” That is an homage to the former finale song featured in Spaceship Earth and contained the following lyrics:
Holding the spark, as we embark,
on a great journey together we’re learning
to reach for hope and desire.
Building a world to inspire.
Tomorrow’s child, tomorrow’s child,
shining a brand new way,
for the future world is born today.
That was the message that I grew up hearing. I visited EPCOT Center in 1987 and not again until 1998, when the song was long gone from that ride in the giant golf ball. So why does it affect me to this day? Because in the 1980s our parents realized that they were likely not going to change the world directly, but their children could. So, in every classroom, Sunday school class and scout group, the message was the same. “You can change the world.” EPCOT Center was built of this optimism.
Future World taught us not only where we came from and where we were going, it taught us how WE fit in to this future, and not in a patronizing way. It used the power of gentle suggestion to get us to rethink how the world worked. Energy, Food, Transportation, and our own Imagination were just a few of the relevant issues of the day that were addressed within this oasis of optimism.
World Showcase, designed and built during the height of the Cold War, showed that there really is a brotherhood of Man, and that if we learn to appreciate each other for our similarities rather than our differences, our global community could thrive. Remember, this was pre-Internet and there was no Travel Channel, so if one of Tomorrow’s Children wanted to learn about another culture, they would have to visit a library and, in the case of a few cultures, visit a tacky, inauthentic local restaurant for a taste of France or Italy, and Morocco or Norway? Forget about it.
From the depths of the ocean to the heights of our own imaginations, from Norway to Morocco and all points in between, EPCOT Center stretched our minds and showed us the world as only it could. Our generation as “Tomorrow’s Children” saw the world changing faster and more dramatically than any time in history and EPCOT Center was at the forefront. Communicore was bursting with exhibits featuring the computer, something that was not yet a common tool in many households or even businesses. Large scale fiber optics and even the laser disc were first used in large capacity in EPCOT Center.
The future was within our grasp and EPCOT Center ensured that we knew that. It ensured that new technology wasn’t something to be feared. It was something to be embraced and utilized to fix the problems of the world. We shouldn’t view our global neighbors and focus on what makes us different. We should focus on how we are alike. After all, with the integration of technology, the world is shrinking as never before, and soon, our most distant neighbors will be no further than a pavilion or two away.
So, Happy 30th birthday, EPCOT Center. You remind us of the best in ourselves and in our world. You inspire and amaze. I leave you with the words of Disney president Card Walker in his dedication speech delivered 30 years ago today.
“EPCOT is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative vision. Here, human achievements are
celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that
promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and above all, may it instill a new sense of
belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere in
EPCOT Center, you’ve done that very thing these past 30 years and we wish you at least 30 more.
Your Tomorrow’s Children
Happy Birthday EPCOT Center – Love, Tomorrow’s Children was written and submitted by Andrew Petersen, a cast member with the Walt Disney Company and avid fan of EPCOT Center. None of his views represent the Walt Disney Company and all of his views expressed in this article are solely his own.