Giant lizards, architects and Willard Straight himself — all three are part of the annual Dragon Day parade, organized by first-year architects and kicking off this Friday at 1 p.m. in front of Rand Hall.
According to the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning’s website, Dragon Day was originally conceived as a celebration of the architecture college by alumnus Willard Dickerman Straight 1901.
The first College of Architecture Day — as it was originally called — was held on St. Patrick’s Day in 1901. Students celebrated by hanging orange and green banners, shamrocks and other decorations throughout Lincoln Hall, which was originally the College of Architecture building.
One of the first parades was described in a 1920 letter to Straight’s widow from one of his colleagues: “One year, a 12ft St. Patrick was painted and hung on the side of the building [Lincoln Hall] with a great 20ft long serpent chasing after him. In the afternoon, these were taken down, and carried in solemn procession around the campus.”
The image of the giant snakes played a part in the eventual shift from the “College of Architecture Day” to the modern Dragon Day. Today, the university tradition boasts “a 70-foot long dragon,” according to Andrew Boghossian ’22 and Frances Gregor ’22, this year’s co-presidents in charge of the parade.
Boghossian and Gregor — the “dragon lords,” per their official title — spearheaded the Dragon Day planning process while working with the entire first-year architect class.
“We had a planning meeting with everyone in the [first-year] class and proposed a bunch of theme ideas, but also design elements. Then, the construction team took [it] to reality,” Boghossian said.
Every year has its own theme, and the 2019 dragon is no exception, according to Boghossian.
“Because Dragon Day has taken this dark and mysterious approach — the dragon is dangerous — our design for the shirts and everything is ‘playful,’” he said.
Gregor described the stress of working on the dragon while also working on schoolwork.
“It definitely is a balancing act,” she said, noting that the students didn’t have studio this week in preparation for Dragon Day — which Boghossian called “a blessing.” Studio refers to the bulk of architecture students’ workload, in which they are given space in Milstein Hall to work on their own individual and class projects.
“The one difficulty is that Dragon Day isn’t a day. Dragon Week for construction isn’t enough either,” Gregor said. According to Gregor, dragon construction began two months prior.
In addition to constructing the dragon, first-year architects also participate in a number of “pranks” on campus in the week leading up to Dragon Day.
Boghossian described the “green streak” — consisting of a procession through campus in “boxers and sports clothes” while covered in Nickelodeon-slime-green paint — as well as the “nerd walk,” where the paint is replaced by collared shirts and suspenders. These “pranks” took place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
According to Boghossian, two additional unspecified pranks will also take place before Dragon Day.
“I can be vague, but also clear,” he said. “They’re coming the next couple of days. I’m not going to be more specific than ‘the next couple of days.’”
Some past pranks may have gone too far: In 1966, a green-painted pig was released into the Ivy Room as part of the celebration, causing chaos and more than a few complaints to the administration, according to the Cornell University Library.
These pranks are part of a decades-old tradition designed to integrate first-year architects into the architecture community. First-years are also assigned second-year mentors, assist in promoting the parade and — most importantly — sell T-shirts to raise funds.
One of the co-presidents in charge of last year’s dragon, Erin Huang ’22, discussed the fundraising process in an interview with The Sun.
“I think it’s a pain in the butt logistically because you have to coordinate so many people [and] have to make sure people are selling,” she said. “But it’s a good way to talk to people outside your major and convince people [to participate] by saying, ‘Buy a shirt, do you know what Dragon Day is?’”
Huang’s role as a co-president last year, along with Noah Liao ’22, was to oversee the entire process leading up to Dragon Day. However, they are not the only ones accountable for its success. Responsibility is divided between the co-presidents, two construction heads, four people in charge of t-shirt sales, two people for pranks, four assigned to advertising and documentation and four “parents.”
These “parents,” according to Huang, “make sure everyone eats, sleeps and wakes up to do their shift.”
The events of Dragon Day, however, are not just meant to be an artistic expression or a way to blow off steam — historically, they have been used as political messages.
In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dragon Day was postponed by its organizers to promote a “neutral involvement,” Barry Poskanzer ’68 was quoted as saying in a 1968 Sun article. The parade, which occurred on the Monday after St. Patrick’s Day, featured a dragon painted completely black and lacked the normal revelry associated with the celebration.
Poskanzer told The Sun at the time that “instead of saying nothing in a stupid way, we hope to say something meaningful.”
More recently, the 1994 dragon theme was “The Fall of Rome,” aiming to criticize an administration-led initiative to cancel the AAP Cornell in Rome program. Last year’s theme was “transparency,” a response to turmoil in the political climate.
The parade is open to the public, and architecture students are not the only ones who actively participate in Dragon Day. Driven by a rivalry as old as Dragon Day itself, a group of engineers called the Phoenix Society create a giant phoenix that meets the dragon in front of the Engineering Quad.
Physics and performing media arts students have also participated in the parade annually since the early 2010s, building a unicorn and a black knight, respectively.
Emily Gibson ’21, an engineer working on the phoenix, lamented the lack of departmental emphasis on the project.
“It’s hard to get engineers interested because it’s just a fun side thing for us, not part of [a tradition] like the dragon is,” she said. “That’s why I like doing it, though — it’s absolutely non-academic and the only goal is to do whatever you want and have fun.”
Gregor also echoed Gibson’s point.
“I think what’s most fun about Dragon Day is the fact that we build something,” she said. “I find it so rewarding to think that two months ago, we thought, ‘We should make a dragon,’ and then now we’re laying the pieces, putting it together, and then this thing is going to be 70 feet long and existent.”
Dragon Day begins in front of Rand Hall at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 29.