DGT #8: Dragon Day at Cornell (March 25, 2016)



I cannot believe that I didn't know about this Cornell tradition until a little birdie tipped me off to it a few weeks ago. It's Dragon Day. And it's today!

Dragon Day is an annual event that occurs every year on the Friday before spring break at Cornell University.  In a tradition that goes back more than 100 years, an enormous dragon created by first-year architecture students parades across campus. Accompanied by AAP students in outrageous costumes, the dragon lumbers to the Arts Quad where it does battle with a phoenix created by rival engineering students. This rite of spring is one of Cornell's best-known traditions. - See more at: http://aap.cornell.edu/news-events/dragon-day-2016 or here, http://cornell-classic.univcomm.cornell.edu/xsearch/?tab=facts&q=dragon%2520day&id=263

Dragon Day has its roots in the antics of Cornellian Willard Dickerman Straight, Class of 1901. While on the Cornell campus, Mr. Straight attended the School of Architecture, and from his early days as a freshman, developed a reputation as a prankster, leader, and developer of class unity. The idea of Dragon Day was conceived from a tradition which followed Mr. Straight's belief that there should be a distinctive College of Architecture Day. At the time, he chose St. Patrick's Day. Later, the additional theme of celebrating St. Patrick's success in driving the serpents out of Ireland also became attached to the holiday.

History has not made clear the time that the first Dragon Day was held, though it is safe to assume that it occurred sometime between 1897 and 1901 (the years which Willard Straight was on campus). How the first parade evolved into a rite of initiation for the freshman Architecture class - ending with the burning of the dragon on the Arts Quad - has also not been revealed.

Dragon Day signifies a rivalry between Cornell architecture students and those in the College of Engineering. During the second half of the 1980s, several incidents of violence between engineering and architecture students were associated with Dragon Day.  Public Safety had previously reported numerous incidents of violence - Engineers, as a method of attempting to destroy the dragon, would freeze fruit to throw at the dragon and fill empty soda bottles with dry ice which would then cause them to explode like miniature bombs.

Beginning in 1986, several attempts were made to channel engineers' frustrations into more creative outlets. In 1986, in the middle of the cold war, a group of civil engineering students prepared a mock ICBM which they carried in an effort to ram the dragon as it passed by the engineering quad. They were immediately stopped short by architects protecting their creation. In the spring of 1987, a larger group of engineering students came together to once again create an organized response to Dragon Day. In an effort to reduce chances of violence, the group chose to create a rather passive phoenix bird to hover over the engineering quad as the dragon passed by. Unfortunately, the helium filled giant metallized plastic balloon deflated by the time the dragon rolled around over two hours late (#served).   

Not satisfied with this mediocre performance, the engineering group founded the Phoenix Society and vowed to annually meet the dragon with an engineering avatar. Dropping the non-aggressive stance, the group unanimously voted to construct a knight on horseback in the spring of 1988. Following this first successful engineering confrontation with the dragon, a sporadic custom has developed, with varying themes: a Viking longboat in 1989, a cobra in 2001, a penguin in 2005, and a phoenix last year. 

Starting in 2014, the physics community—motivated both by being left out of Dragon Day and also by the fact that like the architects and engineers, physicists are very capable of building things—has entered the fray of Dragon Day festivities. In 2014, a team of physicists—composed of mostly graduate students, but also some undergraduate students—constructed the first annual Physics Unicorn. The tradition was continued in 2015 with the creation of a silver unicorn army.

Due to tighter restrictions on controlled fires on campus, the ritual burning of the dragon after it reaches the Arts Quad has become symbolic. Dragon Day co-president (2011) Ryan Petersen said that "because we can't really burn the Dragon anymore ... we're trying to make that part of the tradition continue and be ceremonial and linked to the dragon, and have some sort of end to the parade."

WOW, color me impressed - all of this sounds pretty pretty awesome. Good for Cornell students for coming up with such an awesome tradition. I peeped the swag they made for this year's Dragon Day online, and the shirts are sick. The only thing that could make this event cooler is if all of the architecture students were holding Drankgons as they paraded their dragon through campus. I can't stop laughing at the thought of a large group of students from three schools parading around a dragon, phoenix, and unicorn all toward the same place, especially with the "threat of violence" looming large between the groups.

If any of the writers from Revenge of the Nerds are reading this, I smell another sequel in the making...  Revenge of the Nerds 3: D DAY (DRAGON DAY)

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