Editor's Desk

Flower Power

Editor Larry Peña on the power of one of Cal Poly's most spectacular annual traditions.

A man in a blue shirt stands among plants, with his face obscured by a bouquet of flowers

Editor Larry Peña at the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory. Photo by Joe Johnston

Everywhere you look across California, Cal Poly graduates are making big, impressive things happen — in aerospace, agriculture, technology, architecture, entertainment and beyond. But every New Year’s Day, perhaps the flashiest, most obvious display of that work comes rolling down Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard and into millions of homes across the nation and around the world.

I’m talking about the Cal Poly Rose Parade float. It’s the longest-running student-built float project in the nation’s most popular New Year’s Day parade, and over the past 75 years it has become an indispensable part of our culture and identity.

I’ve been editing Cal Poly Magazine for almost 10 years, and I’m always caught between two competing instincts: “Should we do a big story about the Rose Float?” and “Didn’t we just do a story about the Rose Float?” But honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of ways to tell this story.

It’s easy to see why the Rose Float is such a captivating part of Cal Poly’s culture. It’s an undeniably powerful Learn by Doing opportunity that brings together students and alumni across dozens of programs and disciplines, who flex their diverse areas of expertise to bring a spectacular piece of art to life. And on top of that, millions of people worldwide see the end result.

I love getting to talk to Rose Float students. I’ve interviewed many of them over the years, and in a school full of people who are passionate about what they do, these might be some of the most passionate of all. Whether current students or long-graduated alumni, they invariably tell me about the skills they learned, the leadership abilities they honed, and perhaps most importantly, the lifelong friendships they made.

It’s truly a signature part of the Cal Poly experience, and a beacon to the world showing who we are and what we’re capable of. So for this issue of Cal Poly Magazine, we went all out with our Rose Float coverage as the program celebrated a major milestone. My colleague Robyn Kontra Tanner left no stone unturned gathering stories of dedication, teamwork, creativity and joy from generations worth of Rose Float students.

I hope you enjoy exploring 75 years of history, beauty and tradition with this iconic Cal Poly program.