Any High School Musical fan knows how special the Disney Channel franchise is. The movies were truly unlike anything else and between the characters, the music, and the storylines, it was simply magical. And even for the actors involved, being able to tell these stories the way they did is something that will stick with them forever.

Speaking to Billboard, Lucas Grabeel and Monique Coleman, aka Ryan Evans and Taylor McKessie, reflected on how inspiring their characters were to them as actors and to fans all over the world.

“Disney has always done an incredible job of pushing boundaries and breaking down stereotypes and telling different stories that actually represent people. I think the cast of High School Musical represents that on a large scale,” the 37-year-old actress said. “It was really important to me because, at that time, there weren’t really any other African-American girls on the Disney Channel, except for Raven. There also weren’t African-American female characters like Taylor. The idea that I could portray a character that anyone could see and say, ‘Yeah, a black girl can be the smartest girl in school. She doesn’t always have to be sassy’ — that was part of what really drew me to it.”

Taylor HSM
Disney Channel

Taylor truly was a total boss and so many young girls who watched the movies were able to identify with her and see themselves in her, which is nothing short of inspiring. For Lucas, he explained that his character Ryan not only helped young people feel more comfortable going after their dream of performing in a musical, but helped them be true to themselves when it came to figuring out their sexuality.

“[I love] when I hear someone tell me a story like, ‘I really wanted to be in a musical when I was a kid, but everyone thought that that was dumb or nerdy, and after High School Musical that changed. Because of that movie, I got to go out and pursue my dream and be accepted for what I like,'” the 33-year-old actor said. “Now, Ryan is not officially gay in any of the movies, but I think anyone that watches him can identify with who he was in high school: someone trying to figure it out. And I have young men in high school come up to me saying that, though it’s hard to talk about their sexuality, seeing that kind of character represented in a good light and a fun way was really helpful to them. To have something like that represented in a Disney, G-rated movie at that time was special, and however over the top Ryan may have been at times, I’ve been told that it helped.”

Ryan HSM
Disney Channel

Now seriously, anyone who says HSM didn’t have an impact can take it from the stars themselves: it sure did. It’s helped a generation of young people and will forever. Because once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat, right?

Love J-14? Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for fun, exclusive videos with your favorite stars.