Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer

Architecture students reflect on the potential of missing two Dragon Days and the temporary loss of this beloved Cornell tradition.

April 20, 2021

Dragon Day in Limbo as First-Years Try to Keep Tradition Alive

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For over a century, Dragon Day has been one of Cornell’s best-known rites of passage — ringing in spring with the battle between first-year architecture students and engineers in the parade from Rand Hall to Ho Plaza. 

But after a lost Dragon Day in 2020, some first-year architecture students are holding onto hopes of experiencing Dragon Day themselves as time runs out in the spring semester. Event capacities remain capped at 10 people, so some first-years are working with the administration to try to plan a socially distanced event.

Dragon Day, which usually takes place right before spring break, has since 1901 brought first-year architecture together after spending countless hours in fabrication shops to build the dragon from scratch — creating a sense of community among the first-year architects. 

“It brings everyone together for this shared passion of building something,” said Alp Demiroglu ’21, a fifth-year architecture student. “Building this ginormous dragon, and then pointing at it and saying, ‘We did that.’”

The event, which was started by Willard Dickerman Straight as College of Architecture Day, was originally celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day, leading serpents to be incorporated into the celebration. In the 1950s, the serpents gave way to dragons, and Dragon Day began to look the way it does today.

Apart from the parade, other traditions have been part of Dragon Day over the years, such as burning the dragon on the Arts Quad, which no longer takes place, and pranking engineering students.

But as the semester winds down, this might be the second consecutive year with no dragon parade across campus — potentially one of many losses for first-year students who have already weathered the loss of a bustling Orientation Week and Homecoming.  

“A traditional dragon isn’t possible this year,” said architecture student Grace O’Malley ’25. “We’re getting around the fact that we can’t have thousands of people gathering for this one big dragon.”

While some first-years initially considered a virtual Dragon Day celebration, they decided against it, as some said it wouldn’t bring the class together and promote collaboration. They also wouldn’t be able to pack into fabrication facilities like previous years.

“There’s this question of, ‘Is our year disconnected from the school?’” O’Malley said. “Are we disconnected from the rest of our class, because we’re not doing this thing together and with [the guidance of] the older grades?” 

While the first-years still need to communicate and coordinate with facilities staff and the Cornell University Police Department to solidify a plan for Dragon Day, the end of the semester is less than five weeks away. Even if Dragon Day does not take place this year, architecture students are looking forward to attending it in coming years, even if they’ve graduated.

Demiroglu said it has been disappointing for him and other fifth years that they haven’t been able to celebrate their final Dragon Day — but they plan to visit Cornell next year just to experience it again.

 “It’s this tradition that we all care about and we love,” Demiroglu said. “For a lot of people it’s also one of the reasons why they chose Cornell, because it’s this weird tradition no one else has.”