For over a century, Cornell’s Dragon Day has been a rite of passage for first year students in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, who construct a large dragon to parade around campus the Friday before spring break. After being canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dragon Day will return in 2022.
The tradition’s origins can be attributed to Willard Straight ’01, who sought to establish a College of Architecture Day on Saint Patrick’s Day and decorate the college accordingly. Since Irish legend has it that Saint Patrick drove the serpents out of Ireland, the event featured a serpent as its main symbol. Sometime in the 1950s, the celebration became known as “Dragon Day.”
Dragon Day has recently come to involve students in the College of Engineering as well –– engineers build a phoenix to represent the friendly rivalry between the two colleges.
Dragon Day cancellations in previous years arose due to logistical challenges. According to AAP student Oscar Llodra ’25, social distancing guidelines not only made it difficult for Cornell students to gather on campus to enjoy the parade, but also prevented architecture students from coming together for the six or more weeks of close collaboration required to plan and construct the dragon.
Llodra said that Dragon Day is one of the few times when the entire architecture class can come together. He also stated that many current sophomores and juniors in AAP will participate in the event, since they didn’t get the chance to do so during their freshman years.
“Everyone cares about the tradition so much,” Llodra said. “It’s an opportunity to make something happen, which is always really fun … but it also bonds the entire class of first and second years. That’s just really exciting because it’s really hard to do that.”
This year, Llodra will serve as one of two second-year “Dragon Lords” — peer-elected project leaders who appoint students to the executive board that directs the creation of the Dragon team — alongside classmate Gabby Melton ’25.
The first year class also has two Dragon Lords: Lily Mager ’26 and Jose Ortega ’26. They are responsible for appointing other students to roles that are necessary in making Dragon Day happen, such as construction or finance management.
While many Cornellians only engaged in a single day of Dragon Day festivities, the event requires at least six weeks of planning and preparation in advance. An executive board of students must be chosen to oversee and direct essential activities, such as fundraising, purchasing materials and constructing the dragon.
Because Dragon Day is fully student-funded, the executive board heavily emphasizes fundraising for the event. Llodra and Melton said that selling Dragon Day t-shirts gives them the funds to purchase construction materials for the dragon.
“We need to start selling t-shirts ASAP,” said Melton. “We did a logo design contest that’s going to be sort of converted into a t-shirt, and then next week, we’ll start selling T-shirts.”
The Dragon Day construction team, which consists of the majority of both first and second year participants, uses woodworking and welding to build the dragon. This year, because there will be twice the amount of students working to build the dragon as there were in 2019, the board decided to build a larger, two-headed dragon to represent each of the two classes who produced the dragon.
“I think this is going to be a year that will definitely go down in the books,” Mager said.
Mager added that having two classes work together allows for increased collaboration and socialization, with a bigger team also bringing more diverse visions and perspectives to the project.
To generate excitement for Dragon Day, Llodra said that a prank team organizes a series of CUPD-and-administration-approved jokes leading up to the event.
“Although the event is very carnivalesque and seems unhinged … everything is planned with the various administrative levels,” Llodra said.
Some older students who participated in past Dragon Days continue their involvement in the event for years. Remy Mermelstein ’22 was a head designer and builder of the 2018 dragon; this year, he will conduct an introductory meeting informing younger students about Dragon Day.
Mermelstein said he was drawn back to the project by its sense of community and fun atmosphere.
“I think [Dragon Day] is the best time for first year architects and a week of bonding and team building that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else,” Mermelstein said. “And Dragon Day is just wicked fun. Especially as upper years, it is fun as well to participate in the parade.”