How to build your dragon

As I type this post, a pair of dragon candlesticks stand merely inches away from my Mac. Although I’ve since expanded my personal style from “trying-too-hard sorceress chic,” I can promise you that at least 70% of the clothes and jewelry I wore as a middle-schooler were decorated with some kind of mystical serpent. For preteen Keely (and, let’s be honest, present-day Keely too), dragons were the coolest because they embodied the strength of wisdom and the persistence of imagination.

(Plus they had wings and any number of desirable elemental powers.)

And yet even with such a proud history of obsessing over dragons, today marked the first–and, sadly, last–Dragon Day I’ve experienced during my four years at Cornell.

Since Dragon Day is typically held on the Friday before spring break begins, it’s easy to see how many people end up inadvertently skipping the event each year. As a freshman, I spent Dragon Day bussing to Canada for the CU Chorus’ spring tour; sophomore year found me hopping the Greyhound to New York City, and last year I was, well,  kind of in London.

Consequently, this March was my final opportunity to catch a sight of an on-campus dragon: and my inner thirteen-year-old was going crazy trying to imagine what the creature could possibly look like.

Well, “something designed by Donald Judd (or any other Minimalist artist)” was not my first guess, and I would’ve preferred a dragon that wasn’t composed of metallic geometric shapes, but hey–it’s still better than Peter Jackson’s disappointingly bland interpretation of Smaug.


The beast began slouching towards its inevitable demise near Rand and Milstein. Unnerved by the costumed revellers (particularly those bearing large effigies of various controversial popular figures–wouldn’t you run away from the disembodied head of Paula Deen taped to a stick?), I perched on an adjacent hillside near the Physical Sciences Building to observe the proceedings from a manageable distance.


IMG_0886Traditional rivals to the dragon usually only include the Theatre, Film, & Dance knight and the engineers’ phoenix. This year’s festivities were also graced by the presence of an admirably purple and pinata-esque unicorn: the brainchild, I believe, of physics majors who decided to prove that the engineers and the architects aren’t the only folks on campus who know how to build things.

Though the vacant eyes of this My Enormous Pony were a bit uncanny, I did appreciate the flash of color competing with the dragon’s silvery skin (which looked a little too much like the many lost Mylar balloons of my childhood).

IMG_0892But o, Knockoff Twilight Sparkle, how your charms dimmed in comparison to this fine creature!

Although this picture makes the phoenix appear to fall into the “robot chicken” category, I can assure you that it was much more impressive in person–the eyes even glowed brighter than the bizarrely pink lights on the inside of a night-running TCAT bus.

I guess that means I’m Team Phoenix?


As much as minimalism is not my cup of tea, however, I should emphasize that I don’t mean to disparage the dragon’s design in any way. The abstract serpent won my representationalist heart when it boldly flapped its wings for the first time in front of Willard Straight.


In fact, by the time it reached its entirely symbolic funeral pyre on the Arts Quad (since the days of actual dragon-burning have been banned in this glorious modern era), I was almost a little sad to see the guy go. Still screaming nonsensical syllables occasionally punctuated with the cry of “DRAGON!,” the architects climbed their creation as though it were a particularly lengthy set of monkey bars and tore every last scrap of Mylar skin from its skeleton. After running about in a whirling, maddening, and completely inexplicable dance, the celebrants retreated back to Rand, leaving first-timers like me breathless and utterly confused by the somewhat Dada ceremony that had just taken place.

Inscrutable as the festivities were, however, Dragon Day exceeded my expectations immensely. I’d been told that the dragon-filled afternoon was a kind of “slightly less drunk Slope Day.” To my surprise, the crowd wasn’t that enormous and the clientele was (mostly) well-behaved. Families brought children (in costumes!), Real Non-College People came with their adorable dogs and big-lens cameras, and the entire experience had that kind of delightfully quaint esotericism usually found only in well-planned Renaissance fairs and vaguely ritualistic small-town festivals.

Now that I’ve enjoyed one essential Cornell tradition, of course, am I finally going to give Slope Day a try this year? Sorry, Matt & Kim and Ludacris–you’d need to have the Moody Blues, Colin Meloy, and a magically resurrected John Cage as your opening acts in order to get me on the Slope on that fatal day in May.


  1. Those are fantastic beasts indeed! Dragons just aren’t what they used to be, I suppose.

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