Cal Poly Rose Float Students to Feature in National New Year’s Day Broadcast

Though the 2021 Pasadena classic has been canceled due to COVID-19, students from 
both polytechnic universities will still play a part in the annual celebration

The 2020 Cal Poly Rose Float, “Aquatic Aspirations.” Photo from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The Tournament of Roses, unable to host the traditional Rose Parade® in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced it will produce a New Year’s Day celebration to be broadcast in its place — featuring students from both Cal Poly universities.

The two-hour TV special will feature live-to-tape musical and marching band performances, celebrity guest appearances, and “heart-warming segments about the Rose Parade.” 

The students of Cal Poly Rose Float, involved in the annual Pasadena classic since 1949, will be highlighted in one of the segments. 

Enjoyed by an international audience of 28 million, the Rose Parade® celebrates the New Year with a floral celebration of creativity, color, music and pageantry. Since its inception in 1891, the event has not been held only three times: in the wartime years of 1942, 1943 and 1945.

Students began planning for the 2021 parade last January, just weeks after “Aquatic Aspirations” received the Director Award for the most outstanding artistic design and use of floral and non-floral materials at the 131st Rose Parade®.

The Rose Float Leadership Team students, made up of about 60 students from Cal Poly campuses in San Luis Obispo and Pomona, fully designed the 2021 float entry virtually in the spring and even began some construction before the parade was officially canceled in July.

Since returning for the start of the 2020-21 academic year this fall, these students have worked with the Tournament of Roses television producers to create a special segment highlighting the Cal Poly Rose Float experience.

The segment will provide a glimpse into the yearlong student process of designing, constructing and decorating the Cal Poly float for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade presented by Honda. Old and new video footage will be combined with interviews of student float leaders to create a one-of-a-kind production. 

The television production “has been a great opportunity to represent the Cal Poly Rose Float Program and show the world a more behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to design and build a Cal Poly float,” said Madison Toney, president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Rose Float team.

Toney joined the team as a freshman in fall 2017.

“Rose Float is a special program where you are able to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” said the senior from Redding, Calif., who studies business administration and integrated marketing communications. “It is a 13-month project that in the end is viewed by millions of people around the world. The gratification that you get from being a part of a whole year is spectacular. 

“Another big part of why I have been in float for these past few years is the tight-knit community within the program. I have made all my closest friends from joining Rose Float. We spend so much time together that we are like a small family.”

The Cal Poly Rose Float is one of only a handful of privately built floats in the Rose Parade® and has been invited to participate for 73 consecutive years. Since the birth of the Cal Poly Rose Float program in the fall of 1948, students from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona have been bridging the 240-mile gap to create the only student-designed and -built float in the parade. Since then, the two campuses’ entries have earned 57 awards. 

In addition to the Rose Parade® trophies, the program has earned countless accolades for introducing innovations into its float designs later incorporated by professional float builders, including computer-controlled animation, hydraulic systems, and cleaner emissions with propane.

Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing ethos is exemplified in all facets of the float program, as students from throughout all six of the university’s colleges get hands-on experience welding, metal shaping, machining, foam carving, woodworking, painting and flower harvesting — ultimately competing against professional float builders with corporate sponsorships.

The New Year’s Day television special will air on ABC, NBC, KTLA, Univision, Hallmark Channel and RFD-TV at 8 a.m. Jan. 1, 2021.

About Cal Poly
Founded in 1901 and part of the renowned California State University system since 1960, Cal Poly is a nationally ranked, four-year, comprehensive polytechnic public university located in San Luis Obispo, California. Known for its Learn by Doing approach, small class sizes and open access to expert faculty, Cal Poly is a distinctive learning community whose 22,000 academically motivated students enjoy an unrivaled hands-on educational experience that prepares them to lead successful personal and professional lives. For more information, visit And to learn more about the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Rose Float team, visit

About the Pasadena Tournament of Roses®
The Tournament of Roses is a volunteer organization that hosts America’s New Year Celebration® with the Rose Parade® presented by Honda, the Rose Bowl Game® presented by Northwestern Mutual and a variety of accompanying events. Find more at

Students at work on the 2020 Cal Poly Rose Float, “Aquatic Aspirations.” Photo by Joe Johnston, Cal Poly
Students at work on the 2020 Cal Poly Rose Float, “Aquatic Aspirations.” Photo by Joe Johnston, Cal Poly

The photo at the top shows the 2020 Cal Poly Rose Float, “Aquatic Aspirations.” Photo from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Contact: Josh D’Acquisto
Cal Poly Rose Float coordinator

December 3, 2020

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