With Dragon Day fast approaching, we recently asked a few members of the team behind the beast to share their thoughts and experiences on the process of creating the famed Dragon, from the initial E-board elections to the mad-dash of Dragon Week. Here’s what they said:
Yueer Niu, E-Board: Fundraising and T-shirts Chair
When Cornell students first hear the words “Dragon Day,” their usual reaction is not excitement or anticipation but confusion. Although for most student on campus, Dragon Day is nothing more than a day when architecture students go crazy (and a day when people actually see us outside the studio); for the AAP (Art, Architecture, and Planning) community, it’s a powerful and transformative experience. Dragon Day, for us, starts two months before the day of the parade with a meeting conducted by second-year architecture students. E-board is chosen at this meeting in a democratic process; leaders are not only delegated the work involved with planning, but the huge amounts of stress and frustration that are side effects to that work.
Contrary to what the general community might think, every decision we made was incredibly thought-out. Our theme took weeks to finalize. The design of the dragon, the t-shirt design, how to advertise—all of this took numerous questions into consideration: How can we be powerful yet not intimidating? What do we care about, both as a group and as individuals? And how do we push that message out? For me personally, all these deliberations taught me to be more respectful of diversity, or rather, how to work in a respectful way with remarkably different people. And in turn, my reward for the things that I learned was mutual respect from my peers.
Being a part of the E-board has forced me to grow up and deal with a community larger than architecture, larger than the university and maybe even larger than Ithaca. It has shown me the power that our theme, “Louder Together,” really has. A few days ago, someone outside of the Cornell community contacted me and told me how a company in Boston was excited to see our creation. People keep asking me for a photo of the sign posted on Milstein Hall that says, “WE WILL NOT BUILD YOUR WALL.” Any fears that our message is too political—that we could potentially cause an even more divided community—are gone, and it is through Dragon Day that I have personally seen the power behind and love for what we believe in.
As Dragon Week comes up, fifty-eight first-year architecture students, myself included, are getting more and more stressed and excited in anticipation of Dragon Day. It is, as we are constantly being told by the upperclassmen who have gone through the same experiences their freshman year, going to be one of the most memorable days in our college careers. For now, however, we are buried in endless tasks that do not cease to come up. I am watching my friends mature before my eyes as they assume new responsibilities—whether that means ordering a trailer truck full of steel for the dragon construction, or planning the traditional pranks, such as putting a toy dragon head on the Ezra Cornell statue.
The growing excitement for Dragon Day is partially inspired by its theme, “Louder Together”. This concept is about the uniqueness of every person, coming together in one colossal roar. Sahir Choudhary, our co-president, believes the theme allows everyone to express their individuality: “It’s about having your own voice and your own expression and doing things your way; it’s about having an identity.” Dragon Day is really about embracing the differences in people—their idiosyncrasies, ideas and beliefs. Sahir goes on about the excitement it sparks in people, especially those involved in the creation of the Dragon; it is something to associate yourself with for the rest of your Cornell experience.
For now though, the reality of my Dragon Day experience is huge workloads that compose the buildup to Friday. My schedule has been packed this whole week. Even though studio—our main and most demanding architecture course—is canceled for Dragon Week, I set my alarm to 7 am every day. Since our dragon is primarily funded by t-shirt sales (Have you bought your Dragon Day t-shirt yet? They’re one for $12 and two for $20!), I am signed up for multiple two-hour-long selling shifts. In addition to that, construction of the actual dragon recently began, so many of us have been working for hours every day, putting together hundreds of metal pieces. The Dragon Day team is broken up into three main groups: construction, advertising and t-shirt sales. This project has made us into a sort of a company, where every person is doing their job to put this grand event together. The E-board has been most looking forward to Dragon Week; one of our “studio dads” (the caretaker) Alp Demiroglu points out that, historically, Dragon Week is a pivotal time when the whole class gets involved in the project. As of now, only about half the people in our class are actively engaged in preparation for Dragon Day, but he anticipates with excitement that the rest of the class will become just as motivated as the day approaches.
Dragon Day was originally a competition between the architects and the engineers, so the traditions around it involve pranks on engineering students: Nerd Walk and Green Streak. The former involves dressing up very “nerd-like” and walking around campus, while the latter entails streaking around campus covered in green paint. This is a moment for the pranks team to shine and create a sense of rebelliousness and edginess. While the E-board is ordering buckets and buckets of green paint online, the rest of us are raiding our closets in search of old clothes we don’t mind getting permanently green-ish.
One of the most important issues we have encountered so far is the issue of hazing. For an architecture student, it is unbelievable that a tradition such as Dragon Day would be accused of hazing, since we are constantly told—by professors and older students alike—that our participation is voluntary. Despite these warnings, most people in our class are eager to take part in every event related to Dragon Day. The whole concept of hazing appears unreal, since it involves people going against their individuality for the sake of the larger group. It’s exactly the sort of mentality we’re trying to fight with this year’s theme, “Louder Together,” and is exactly the opposite of what we are taught to value in people, which is their unique personalities, decisions and opinions.
Overall, Dragon Day is something we all knew we’d be going through from the moment we came here, but never actually envisioned ourselves doing. And now, after two months of work, it is finally becoming a concrete, tangible thing. In just one day, I know I will see a huge metal creature, animated by the noise we will make around it, be brought to life. I also know that our class photo, along with our dragon, will remain within the walls of AAP for generations to come, and that years from now, future architecture students will scrutinize our creation in search of inspiration for their own dragon.
Dragon Day is so unique and so essential to Cornell because it is a bonding experience not only for the freshman architecture class but for the Cornell community in general. Think about it: what other school in the world has a whole day devoted to a hundred-foot-long, thirty-foot-high dragon? It is indeed a tradition unlike any other.