VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- Lots of teenagers have big dreams.
16-year-old Marquis Thomas, a student at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, started dreaming after a real-life nightmare.
"Sometimes, God takes us through trials and tribulations purposely because that's how He lets you know what you're capable of," said Thomas as he recalled the night his uncle, Tairek ('Reek'), was shot and killed.
"I woke up to use the restroom and I just heard everybody crying, banging on walls... I didn't know what was going on," said Thomas. "So then, I finally heard my uncle call someone and say, 'They got him. They got 'Reek'.'... Even though he didn't do the right things, he was always there for you."
He was the third loved one Thomas lost to gun violence in less than two years. But instead of letting those crimes overtake his life, he decided to learn how to stop them. At 14 years old, he joined the Virginia Beach Police Department Explorer Post Volunteer program, which exposes young adults to the criminal justice system and promotes personal growth. In 2015, the department presented Thomas and a group of young people with the Debra L. Elam Outstanding Youth Volunteer Group Award.
Thomas' grandmother, Dawn Boyer, said she always knew he was special.
"We expect big things from him," said Boyer, "so... the bar is like, set. And... it's high."
Boyer said that's why she pushed her grandson to apply for the Disney Dreamers Academy.
"I'm like, 'You're gonna do it.'" said Boyer. "And he's like, 'No, I'm not.' And I'm like, 'Yes, you are.'"
So, he did, and he was one of five students surprised with the news of his acceptance on live, national television.
"I had no clue why I was on 'Good Morning America'," said Thomas.
But Boyer knew, and she said she had no intention of telling him beforehand. That's how she knew his reaction to the news was real-- just as real as his dreams for the future.
"I wanna be a police officer to reduce crime rate and to possibly prevent other families from going through that kinda hurt that I went through," said Thomas.
The Disney Dreamers Academy starts March 8 and runs through March 11. Walt Disney World Resort is partnering with celebrity Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine for this inspirational program. There will be immersive career workshops, special training sessions and famous special guest speakers. The goal is to expose students to an array of possibilities for the future.