Humans of TCGMC: Shawn Hjelmeland
Shawn: I played hockey for ten seasons growing up. I was horribly bullied in junior high and high school because everybody assumed that I was gay. The worst people that bullied me were my own teammates. After suffering through that, I eventually quit when I was 15. The summer after, I’d gone to England to stay with my aunt and uncle and to help take care of their kids while my uncle was going to Oxford. They took me to see A Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare, and I thought, “That might be kind of fun!”
When school started up again that fall, I decided to join the theater crowd. I worked on the sets, and auditioned for plays, and by the third play, I was the lead! From there, I really got into singing. I ended up going to college on a vocal, music, and theater scholarship at a very conservative school in southern Minnesota, Bethany Lutheran College. I saw a lot of kids get bullied and brutalized there, though. I stuck through it because I was “straight.” I sang in two different choruses, and when I graduated, I got away from theater and music. I focused more on my career in business. I was actually a manager and trainer for the Walt Disney Company.
Josh: OKAY, UM, LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT… ARE YOU SERIOUS? YOU JUST DROP THAT KIND OF INFORMATION CASUALLY. TELL ME MORE!
Shawn: I did my college internship at Walt Disney World in retail management. After finishing my career, I got a job at Disney as an Assistant Store Manager, Visual Merchandiser and District Trainer, and I did that for eight and a half years. I was in Orlando, and then back at Mall of America, Ridgedale, St. Cloud…
So, I’m also a little bit obsessed with Disney. I go at least once every year to Disney – I just got back! – and my favorite park is the Disney Hollywood Studios. Luckily, I got to work in that park when I was in Orlando. I got lucky that the person I interviewed for my internship with was the VP of Retail Operations. She was so impressed that she placed me at that park right away.
Josh: OKAY, WOW. SO MANY QUESTIONS. FIRST, THOUGH, I MUST ASK: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE DISNEY MOVIES/CHARACTERS?
Shawn: My favorite Disney movie is a tie between Aladdin and The Lion King —
Josh: YOU BASIC.
Shawn: — and my favorite character is Sorcerer Mickey from Fantasia. He’s the symbol of Walt Disney Imagineering. I always wanted to be an Imagineer. They’re the ones who design the parks, the restaurants, and the stores. After 8 years, my stores closed and we all got laid off. I went back to school to get my certification in Architectural Drafting. My plan was to work up and be an Imagineer. It didn’t quite work out that way, but that’s okay.
Now I’m a Category Management Analyst for the Kellogg Corporation on the Target account. When you walk into a Target, I’m the one who decides where all the frozen breakfast and meat alternative products are placed. We are the right-hand to the buyers at Target, even though we work for Kellogg.
Josh: DON’T WORRY, HUN. IT’S FINE THAT YOU’RE NOT AN ARCHITECT. WE HAD ONE FEATURED LAST WEEK, SO DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT! WHAT ARE THE INSIDE SECRETS OF DISNEY? WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART?
Shawn: It’s something called “traditions.” It’s kind of an introduction to the history of the Disney culture, everything from when Walt Disney was born to that point in time in the company. At the stores, I become the “traditioneer” at my store.
Josh: WHAT WOULD SURPRISE US ABOUT DISNEY?
Shawn: The amount of money spent on fireworks at Disney. Every month, they spend up to millions of dollars. And the amount of money that’s raked in every day at a single park is unreal.
Josh: YOU MUST MISS IT.
Shawn: I do. We’ll see how the rest of my life turns out. But who knows? Two years ago, I wouldn’t have found myself sitting here.
Josh: I BELIEVE YOU SAID YOU CAME OUT TWO YEARS AGO.
Shawn: Yes. I knew I was gay from a very young age. I had an incident when I was in high school, when my parents read my journal for English class. I told them it was just a phase. Do you remember the student who was here in rehearsal a few weeks ago, doing a paper on a counterculture? His mother was my girlfriend in high school.
In December 2017, I went to see The Greatest Showman, and when the song “This Is Me” came on, I couldn’t control myself weeping. The woman sitting near me looked and said “Are you going to be okay?” I said, “Yes, I know I’m going to be okay.”
Josh: SHE WAS PROBABLY THINKING, “DAMN, HE MUST REALLY BE INTO THIS MOVIE…”
Shawn: Yes! Anyway, that’s where it started to snowball. I was my niece’s sponsor for confirmation. For that reason, I knew I would stay in the closet a bit longer. Soon after, though, I took a trip to California for my cousin’s 40th birthday. My cousin was taking a photo of me, and my aunt walked up behind her and said “Do you think Shawn is gay?” And she said, “Oh, yes.” So I wasn’t fooling anyone but myself.
Less than a month later, almost every person in my life knew I was gay.
Nine years ago, I went to one of the chorus’ holiday concerts, and told myself that if I ever came out, I would join TCGMC. I chickened out in January this year, and ended up auditioning in April 2019. When I got the email from Gerald, I actually started to cry. Very few promises have I made to myself that I’ve ever fulfilled. Unfortunately, my immediate family has not been to any of my concerts, except for my dad’s girlfriend. Hopefully one day, they will come around.
Josh: WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOUR STORY IS THAT IT’S IMPERFECT; IT DOESN’T HAVE THE FANTASTICAL, FAIRYTALE ENDING. PROGRESS STILL NEEDS TO BE MADE. WE’RE THANKFUL TO HAVE YOU, THOUGH, AND WE’RE GLAD YOU’RE HERE AS A MEMBER OF TCGMC.
THE DETAILS ABOUT DISNEY ARE, OF COURSE, DELIGHTFUL, BUT YOU’RE A PART OF OUR FAMILY NOW. THAT IS WHERE WE TRULY FIND THE MAGIC.