Banana Slug Parade brings campus, community together

“First-on-the-planet” procession a whimsical and entertaining celebration of UC Santa Cruz’s five-decades-long residence in Santa Cruz

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UC Santa Cruz alumni paraded with a 12-foot Sammy the Slug balloon sculpture.
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Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane and Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway greet the crowd as Sammy the Slug joins the parade.
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Long Marine Lab got literal, trailering a decorated 22-foot Anderson research boat along the parade route.
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Aspiring alumna, 10-year-old Xochitl Leyva of Aptos, rode her slug-yellow unicycle along the parade route.
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The campus cheer team performed and barked out snappy chants.

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Enthusiastic parade-watchers line the route.
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A canine participant became an honorary Banana Slug for the day. (Photos by Rob Knight)

Banana slugs are usually secretive creatures that prefer damp hiding places to being the center of attention.

But the yellow mollusk was anything but reclusive Sunday when the City of Santa Cruz marked UC Santa Cruz’s 50th anniversary with a “first-on-the-planet” Banana Slug Parade right through the heart of downtown.

With more than 40 entries — from a startlingly yellow Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District bus to the enchanting Anak Swarasanti gamelan troupe and UC Santa Cruz’s all-female a capella group, The High Tones, belting out Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” — the parade was a whimsical and entertaining celebration of UC Santa Cruz’s five-decades-long residence in the county.

"The university is a major contributor to our community,” said Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, who began planning for the event more than a year earlier. He noted the 4,000 jobs the university provides, the millions of dollars pumped into the local economy, the thousands of service hours donated by student volunteers, and the vibrant arts scene fed by a creative campus.

The parade and student expo that followed, he said, was a way to honor that contribution and also serve as a “bridge-building” event between campus and town.

For the crowd that lined the streets and sipped their morning brews on coffee shop patios, the parade was 30 minutes of DIY fun.

Santa Cruz fire engines tooted sirens while motorcycle riders from UC Santa Cruz’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity revved their engines and the campus cheer team barked out snappy chants.

Jody Ryker, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student in pure mathematics, performed Cirque du Soleil-like moves on a hoop suspended from a moving truck as part of Aerial Arts Santa Cruz while 11 members (five of them campus alum) of the Santa Cruz Public Library’s Precision Book Truck Drill Team turned librarian chores into art.

UC Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Lab got literal, trailering a decorated 22-foot Anderson research boat along the parade route — a float that actually floated, noted UC Santa Cruz Earth Sciences Professor Gary Griggs. Not only did the entry win Best in Show but the group was so enthusiastic, it circled the parade route twice.

Campus athletic teams from women’s basketball to the sailing squad and a triathlon group marched along with members of the campus Alumni Association who brought a crowd-pleasing 12-foot Sammy the Slug balloon sculpture and carried a banner that marked the 100,000 alumni the campus has turned out.

Aspiring alumna, 10-year-old Xochitl Leyva of Aptos, rode her slug-yellow unicycle along the parade route.  Her uncle Jesse Velez, the son of immigrant field workers, graduated from UC Santa Cruz in the early '90s and now heads up the IT Department for the City of Clovis. He was the first in his family to graduate from college.

“I want to go to UCSC because my tio went there and he was a Banana Slug,” said the fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Salinas. “I want to live up to that.”

Appearing just ahead of the enthusiastic young unicyclist, University Council-American Federation of Teachers pedaled tree-scraping puppet heads along the route while singing lyric-bending pop songs to mark contract negotiations for UCSC lecturers.

After the celebratory procession, UC Santa Cruz showed off its research side with a Banana Slug Expo on Cooper Street.

Mini robots spun and turned to the delight of youngsters as UC Santa Cruz computer engineering grad student Max Lichtenstein touted “Slug Wars: The Slime Awakens,” a December campus tournament featuring student-created robots.

Across the way, Xochitl Clare (Kresge ’16, marine biology and theater) described her research into what elephant seals eat and whether the energy cost of diving into the depths was worth the nutrition the pinnipeds got by eating the fish there. Nearby, Taylor Gotfrid (Crown ’17, computer engineering and cognitive science) explained her work creating computer games that makes speech therapy fun for kids who had cleft palate surgery.

For Donna Mekis, president of the UC Santa Cruz Alumni Association, the parade marked a positive change in town/gown relations.

“It’s a first,” she said, “and it’s wonderful.”