Words by Christina Arthur
Every year, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona join forces to build a float from scratch for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association’s annual Rose Parade. Both Cal Poly campuses have been participating in the parade since 1949 and have won 59 total awards. They’re also the only float team in the parade that consists entirely of students as they compete against professional float builders.
Business administration junior Madison Toney has been involved with the Rose Float ever since she was a freshman. Throughout her three years on the Rose Float Team, Toney moved from just a participant in her first year, to being on the leadership team for the decorations department in her second year, to now swerving as the decorations chair for the San Luis Obispo campus.
“I first found them at the club showcase as a freshman,” Toney says. “I was trying to find something very creative, hands-on, and artsy. I love that side of things because it’s how I get away from school and academics.”
Toney said that once she started going to the Rose Float labs, she immediately loved the community and the close-knit relationships. “I decided it was a great fit and a way to build a good friend group, so I’ve been there ever since.”
Because the San Luis Obispo campus has counterparts on the Pomona campus, Toney frequently communicates with Pomona’s decorations chair. Their collaborative duty is to make sure they’re getting everything prepared for “deco-week,” which is the seven days before the actual parade, when they travel to Pasadena to affix the flowers and dry decorations onto the float. “There’s a lot of thought that goes into it,” she says. “For instance, we’re doing a turtle this year, so we want to use very specific materials that convey that.”
“I’m more of a quiet person in general, but this has helped me come out of my own box, really talk to people, and experience new ways of tackling different obstacles. The biggest part I learned is communication. Without it, none of this can happen.”
In her role, Toney has put a lot of time and effort into the float. Every week she has six meetings, all of them varying, working with different float departments, her counterpart in Pomona, and the decorations team here in San Luis Obispo. Every weekend, the team has their lab days in Pomona, which normally last from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sometimes, they’ll even have double-lab weekends, which are twice as long. “We try to get the most out of it, especially since we have to travel,” she says.
According to Toney, being the only student-made float in the parade and competing against professional float builders has been a positive challenge. “In some ways we do have limited resources and experiences,” she says, “but overall, everyone on the float team has this drive and ambition to kind of go outside of the box and we use that weakness as our strength.”
Toney says that the Rose Float team has been able to conceive of and build floats other teams normally wouldn’t consider, which makes it a fun and creative process. She also says much of their creativity has to do with a willingness to fail. “A lot of times you’ll think a certain material might look good in one area, so you test it out, and then realize that it actually looks completely ugly,” she says. “Then you learn not to do that. Through this, you’re able to own up to that and take a step back to figure out another way to do it.”
“In some ways we do have limited resources and experiences,” she says, “but overall, everyone on the float team has this drive and ambition to kind of go outside of the box and we use that weakness as our strength.”
(Top) Madison Toney, Rose Float decorations chair. (Above) Loading the skeleton of the float to transport it to the Cal Poly Pomona campus. Photo by Joe Johnston.
Leadership is another major skill Toney has gained throughout her experiences with the Rose Float, especially with being the decorations chair. She says she’s grown within her leadership skills significantly this year, an area where she felt she was weaker in the past. “I’m more of a quiet person in general, but this has helped me come out of my own box, really talk to people, and experience new ways of tackling different obstacles.”
Collaborating with a team is another of the main learning outcomes Toney has taken from the experience. “Working with a completely different campus is beyond what I’ve ever done,” she says, “and I’ve been able to work through those challenges of communication and dealing with people of different personalities.”
According to Toney, each of the different departments within the Rose Float Team, from construction, to design, to decoration, rely heavily on each other to get their jobs finished. “The biggest part that I really learned is the communication, because without it, none of this can happen.” she says. “That’s one of the values I really hold onto with pretty much everything in my life. I think it’s very important, whether its a personal relationship, working in a business, or in class.”