Big Parade Returns to Oberlin After Two-Year Hiatus


Mayu Evans

College third-years and Big Parade Coordinators Mayu Evans and Audrey Burkey hold up one of their Big Parade floats, a chicken on a silver platter.

Last Saturday, students and community members gathered in and around Tappan Square to celebrate one of Oberlin’s most beloved traditions: Big Parade. For the first time in two years, crowds oohed and aahed as passersby donned festive face paint, sequined costumes, and the parade’s signature outlandish floats to make their way down East College Street, relishing in the arrival of spring and the return of a long-missed community event. With National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell leading the group, Big Parade coordinators College fourth-year Priya Banerjee and College third-years Mayu Evans and Audrey Burkey reveled in seeing their year’s worth of preparation come to life.

“This year, the theme was ‘feast,’” Evans said. “We had one float that was a silver platter with a giant roast chicken on it. We made a cute shopping cart and we constructed a bowl with a bunch of fake spaghetti in it. We had WOBC[-FM] in a big pie. I think what makes the parade so kooky and fun is that even though we do purchase a lot of materials, we make most of the floats through found objects things that we’ve had in the Parade Space for the past 20 years that we’ve reused again and again. I think that’s what makes it so exciting.”

Various community and College organizations, including the Kendal Precision Lawn Chair Brigade, the Oberlin High School Marching Band, the town’s Cub Scouts, OCircus, WOBC, and the Big Parade ExCo followed Russell’s bright red convertible, dancing and holding up enormous celebratory banners. As the WOBC staff passed by, College fourth-year and WOBC Operations Manager Eamon McKeon grinned as he showed off his outfit, a gigantic papier mâché cherry pie.

For Burkey, the parade captures the best of Oberlin’s quirky culture, bringing students and community members together to share in a festival of silliness, child-like fun, and camaraderie.

“In the past couple years, I’ve seen how strong the divide between the College and the town can be,” Burkey said. “This event fills everyone with joy and makes people feel connected to this place that we all love. Up until then, a lot of our friends didn’t really know what Big Parade was because it was canceled our first year [due to] the pandemic. So seeing it all come to fruition, seeing the crowds of people coming, you can tell how much it means to the community. They’ve been waiting for this day to come back, and it made us realize how important the parade is. It was honestly very emotional and heartwarming to see.”

As Burkey mentioned, most Oberlin students, including two of the event’s organizers, had never been to Big Parade before. Although Burkey and Evans participated in organizing the event’s 20th-anniversary celebration in October, this was the first time they helped plan the parade itself. 

In the earliest iteration of the parade, the 2001 Eastwood Carnival and Parade, colorfully masked Eastwood Elementary School students frolicked across the school grounds as they carried a 30-person canvas dragon. By the next year, the event had expanded to include the rest of Oberlin, inviting community members and students alike to build floats, organize the event, and walk in the parade. In the last two decades, the event has transformed into a town-wide festival. When the festival was canceled in 2020, the class of 2022 worried this treasured tradition would leave with them.

However, thanks to Banerjee, Evans, and Burkey, the parade emerged from its two-year hiatus better than ever.

“I would consider the parade a massive success,” Burkey said. “I’m trained as the Big Parade treasurer, and at the start of fall semester I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea that there was so much that went into putting on the parade. It felt like when you’re a camp counselor and you realize that the magic of camp doesn’t just happen for kids — people actually have to put it together. We didn’t know what to do or what the parade was supposed to look like, so we just kind of made it up. That’s why it was so special on the day of the parade to finally see all that work pay off.”

Evans added that the trio’s biggest concern was making sure College students knew about Big Parade. Without new members, Burkey and Evans worried the future of the parade would again hang in the balance.

“It’s a very celebrated tradition in the town, but because none of the younger students had been to the last parade, it wasn’t really understood or known among the student body,” Evans said. “Now that people have actually gone and seen how fun it is, they have a more tangible idea of what Big Parade is all about. They know what to expect for next year and will hopefully come again. That will be helpful for us in terms of planning the next one, but I think that it will also inspire people to join. We want to make the next one even better. But this was a pretty crucial move in terms of preserving institutional memory and getting people to care about the cause.”

Since the parade, Evans and Burkey noted that a slew of College second-years have expressed interest in joining the club, suggesting the event include live performances in Tappan, a bigger food selection, and maybe even a petting zoo. Most of these prospective members discovered Big Parade through the Big Parade ExCo, a for-credit class taught by Banerjee, Evans, and Burkey in an effort to drum up support for the parade. 

“I came to a few of the build days at the Big Parade Space, but I got really involved this semester because the ExCo met once a week,” College second-year and Big Parade ExCo student Ava Chessum said. “We would spend time building little sculptures and painting. We had one of the founders of Big Parade come to teach students how to make puppets out of papier mâché. I feel really lucky to be a part of that legacy.”

Chessum always thought of the parade as a way to make friends and procrastinate on her schoolwork, but standing amidst the Big Parade crowd on Saturday, she realized the enormity of the parade and the extent of its impact.

“I hadn’t been able to visualize the scale of the parade until that moment,” she said. “Seeing how many people had gathered around Tappan to dance and sing and jump around, I realized that this event has been a part of the Oberlin community for longer than I’ve been on the planet. I saw the town come alive at that moment and it felt really special. That’s what I hope to preserve.”