March 13, 2008

Dragon Day 2008: From Nerds to Dragon Slayers

Print More

A crowd of 30 huddled on the corner of East Avenue and Campus Road this past Tuesdsay night. Everyone was incognito, disguises carefully coordinated, voices masked and unrecognizable.
Who were these shady individuals and what were their intentions? Were they black-ops staging a coup? No, not creepy enough. The Feds orchestrating a sting operation? Maybe, but judging by the lack of firearms, probably not. Corporate fixers a la Michael Clayton? Marines? Members of a cult? Well, that last one might not be so far off the mark. These enterprising individuals, decked out in mismatched rainbow-colored knee socks and thick-rimmed glasses taped copiously at their bridges, were first-year architecture students about to engage in a sacred rite of passage. Their target: The engineering library, Duffield Hall. The objective: shenanigans.
I first met up with the class of 2012 architects about twenty minutes prior in Rand Hall. One by one, they filtered into the second floor design studio, each donning apparel more ridiculous than the last and arriving to fits of laughter. Girls wore pig tails and showed streaks of lipstick on their teeth when they smiled. Guys lifted their waistlines up to epic heights. Everyone there seemed to be suspendered and unibrowed. The compliments they threw back and forth might have seemed bizarre on most nights (“You look sooo good!” “I Know, I look like a f__king loser!”) but tonight wasn’t just any night — tonight was the the Nerd Walk.
First, a little bit of history. I, myself, wasn’t familiar with the origins of Dragon Day, or of the Nerd Walk, so I thought I’d do a little bit of research. According to, Dragon Day originated at the turn of the century thanks to none other than Willard Straight, class of 1901. Supposedly, the architecture student, for whom the hall on central campus is named, conceived the event as a holiday exclusively for his fellow “archies.” The event has evolved over the years and now, every Friday before spring break, first-years parade a wooden, often paper-machéd, dragon out of Rand Hall, across campus and finally to the Arts Quad, where it is ceremoniously slain — that is, lit on fire.
Dragon Day has run almost every year since the dawn of the 20th century, and at some point, the story goes, students in the College of Engineering became resentful that the architects had their own holiday, and began designing their own monster, a phoenix in its current iteration, to confront the dragon.
Now a tradition, this portion of the event is purely ceremonial, but some of the other traditions that have been passed down along with the event are not so tame. During the “Green Streak,” first-years, wearing minimal clothing, cover themselves in green paint and sprint around campus, a gesture symbolic of, umm, the color green?
And it’s purported that, the night before they march that big lizard around Central Campus, the beast’s creators perform an act pretty beastly in itself — mooning the denizens of Libe Café.
But back to Tuesday night. The Nerd Walk, meant to be a mockery of engineers, might be less stirring than some of the other traditions, but goddamn if those kids weren’t into it.
They were restless. They’d all brought their A-game and they were ready to do their best (or worst, depending on your interpretation) impressions of engineers. There they stood, on the corner of East and Campus, staring out across the street at Duffield; this was their Normandy. They were ready to strike. I made my way across the street, and entered the library so I could see the whole shebang unfold from within.
For those of you who’ve never been to Duffield (I hadn’t myself until this particular night), it’s the bulding with the glassy façade directly across Campus Ave. from the Statler. Once you walk through the glass doors, the building opens up into an (effing huge) atrium. The hall stretches out for what must be two or three hundred yards, and ends at a café-ish area, complete with tables and chairs and full of mingling engineers.
The Nerd Walk officially began with one solitary girl, Jae Hee Lee ’12. Lee had been wearing her outfit — a blue jumpsuit, sleaves and pant legs rolled up, rainbow-colored socks, gigantic dome-shaped earphones resting around her neck, goggles on top of pig-tailed hair, an iPod securely clipped to her belt — since she arrived at the design studio earlier that day. And understandably so; she was the focal point of the architects’ initial assault. She needed to be in character.
Lee skipped through the atrium, music blaring through her headphones, pumping her fists in the air and squealing with glee. When she reached the main sitting area, she stopped, looked around and began dancing uncontrollably, complete with the occasional pelvic thrust.
The room, which mere seconds earlier had been buzzing with conversation, was absolutely, completely, 100-percent silent. So much for blending in.
Soon her compatriots followed suit, filtering in a few at a time. They sat down at tables, approached bystanders and engaged them in ferociously awkward conversation, garnering a great deal of attention. I swear to God, I’ve never heard so much gratuitous lisping and snorting in my entire life. So this is what happens when you spend 40 hours a week in design studio …
“They asked us if we needed a protractor,” recalled one operations research engineer.
“[One guy] was sooo excited when he found out my computer was a ThinkPad,” remembered Amy Goldsmith ’10.
And then, after about eight or nine minutes, just as quickly as it had started, it ended. The nerds slowly filed out of Duffield. In the aftermath, the engineers were some combination of puzzled and confused.
“I thought architects were busy,” responded Ian Lesyk ’09. “Seriously though, there was one girl dancing, and then they were everywhere. We were invaded. Well-played.”
“One tried to give me Cheerios,” said an applied physics major.
After their raid on Duffield, the architects proceeded to attack Carpenter, Willard Straight, Olin and Uris Halls, one after another, leaving a string of bemused looks, awkward glances and uncomfortable silences in their wake. They were relentless. They were unstoppable.
They were maybe a little too into it? I got the idea that maybe they were more entertained then everyone else around them, but those architects are a distinctive clan, and they were having so much fun with each other that I doubt they cared that nobody else seemed to be entirely buying in to their routine.
And who can blame them? They’ve been working grueling hours the past few weeks, designing and building a life-sized dragon. The last few nights before the coup de grâce are spent almost entirely in the workshop. So, really, you can’t blame them for wanting to have a little fun. Since the dragon is set ablaze, the most lasting artifacts for the first-years of their dragon day will be their t-shirts and their memories.
Or maybe not. As one engineer remarked in the middle of the nerd fiasco, “this is totally gonna be on YouTube later.”