La Cañada Float Gets Laughs at Rose Parade

The hard work of local float volunteers pays off with distinguished awards.

Photos by Charly and Sabrina SHELTON
TOP LEFT: Fans in the stands cheer at 131st annual Tournament of Roses Parade.
TOP RIGHT: Rose Queen Camille Kennedy and her court in the parade on the tournament float.
BOTTOM LEFT: Dodo Bird Flight School, the award winning float entry by La Cañada Flintridge.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Aquatic Aspirations was the float entry by Cal Poly University.

By Charly and Sabrina SHELTON

The 131st annual Tournament of Roses Parade, known as America’s New Year celebration, wound its way yesterday along the 5½-mile route from the Tournament Mansion to the intersection of Sierra Madre Boulevard and Villa Street. Among the floats, equestrian units, marching bands and more, the La Cañada entry Dodo Bird Flight School was recognized with the Bob Hope Humor Award for its whimsy.

Almost 1,000 people volunteer each year to bring the parade to an estimated 72 million viewers around the world. In addition to the official Rose Parade volunteers are those who give of their time and skills to decorate the individual floats. Each organization has its own team of volunteers who cover the floats in flowers and plants before they make their trip down Colorado Boulevard.

Among those is Mara Niesyt.

A third-year year physics major and mathematics minor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she is a proud graduate of Crescenta Valley High School. And this year she was the hydraulics lead and the mechanism lead for Cal Poly’s entry in the Rose Parade. It was her first year as a lead, although she has been involved with floats since 2017 when she started at Cal Poly SLO.

Cal Poly offers rose float design and building as an extracurricular class, which was one of the selling points for Niesyt in her college search.

“For me, the physics department was definitely [another] selling point,” she added. “I visited other schools and Cal Poly just had the smaller and more intimate format classes that align more with how I learn and prefer to interact with peers and faculty.”

In high school, Niesyt was part of the Girl Tech Club, which taught girls how to code. Pair that with a long family tradition of watching the Rose Parade, and Niesyt found the perfect group to join in college.

“I knew I wanted to try out rose float when I came to Cal Poly, but I never knew how amazing an organization it was until I started volunteering,” she marveled. “The incredible people and kindness they extend, as well as the huge amount of knowledge that is stored and shared within the group, is amazing.”

There were three teams in the group: design, deco (decoration) and construction. Each one built off the skill of the others, and all three played vital roles in the final product that rolled down Colorado Boulevard. As crunch time drew near, Niesyt found that Deco Week brought both excitement and camaraderie among the team members. And the best part about working on floats?   

“Any time I get to operate the engine is super fun,” Niesyt said. “It is really fun to control and manage such a giant engine and to watch all of the work others have put into the float drive past the crowds of people.”

Niesyt eventually wants to be a physics teacher for high school students. It’s perfect for someone who held such an important leadership position this year working on the Cal Poly float entry.

“I really love being able to work with so many people and teach them skills I was taught just a year before,” Niesyt added.

Watching the float go from a steel skeleton to a fully operational and beautiful piece of work is all part of the job.

Cal Poly’s 72nd parade entry, Aquatic Aspirations, was the only student-built entry in the parade and won the Director Award.