On East Quad, a cotton icon reminder that we are stronger together

issue 01 | summer 2024
Students with stronger together Disney princess towel

How seldom have we led them to see the significance of what they do! — Denison University President Avery Shaw, in his inaugural address, Oct. 21, 1927.

Once upon a time (that time being fall semester 2022), there lived six young men in a place called Shaw Hall, on the East Quad of Denison University, a liberal arts college founded in the days of yore (1831) in the Ohio village of Granville.

The roommates were swimmers all, and therefore well-acquainted with towels and their primary purpose, which of course is drying.

But the tale at hand pertains to a particular towel, a towel that would come to transcend this intended purpose. Over the course of two academic years, its usefulness to the Denison student body would grow far beyond the 28x58 inch rectangle of soft and absorbent 100% cotton that it, in a very real sense, was.

It was a Disney princess towel.

This is the story of the students behind it.

“This all happened by accident,” Lucas Conrads ’25 says.

Long before the towel belonged to all Denisonians — as it now does — it was the sole property of Christian Narcelles ’25.

Narcelles, of Springfield, Ohio, is an unabashed fan of Disney, and the towel began as a family joke when he was still in high school.

“My mom got it as a gag gift for me for Christmas,” he says. He embraced the gag and began taking it to swim meets, and then to Denison, where he met five other members of the Class of 2025: Conrads, Gavin Jones, Max Soja, Patrick Daly, and Blake McDonald.

“We’re all on the swim team,” Soja says. “That’s what brought us together.”

The six decided to live together their sophomore year and scored the suite on the second floor of Shaw. It was a fine suite, but soon after moving in, they realized they had a problem.

“The window was pretty bare,” Narcelles says.

“It’s pretty much the most visible window on East Quad,” Daly says.

The roommates were not aware of, or particularly concerned with, the nuances of traditional window treatments. They hung up Narcelles’ towel, facing out. Because this was college, and it was funnier that way.

“Together We Are Strong,” the towel declared. Four princesses — Rapunzel, Belle, Cinderella, and Tiana — watched over the approach to East Quad, a pastel beacon of positivity.

The groundwork for a legend had been laid.

“I don’t think any of us really thought about it,” Daly says.

But other people did.

“Spring 2023 is when it really picked up,” Conrads says.

The friends realized their classmates were talking about the towel, both on social media and even out in the real world, as they passed it on their way to and from class. The roommates know this because sometimes they were walking directly behind these conversations, cloaked in anonymity.

“It’s kind of like being a superhero,” Conrads says. “Like your alter ego. People don’t know it’s you.”

This became increasingly hilarious to “six guys who are into athletics” who had “no other pink or princessy stuff” in their living quarters, Conrads says.

As their identities remained draped in obscurity, the towel’s fame grew. Students fretted when it fell and rejoiced when it reappeared.

“This finals week, the last thing I have is the princess towel,” someone posted on the anonymous social app Yik Yak.

When the 2022-23 school year drew to a close, students posted a picture of the empty window and reflected on what had been.

“End of an era,” one wrote on Yik Yak.

Someone else responded by saluting, three times, emoji-style.

“Rumor has it they’re keeping the same room next year…” another said.

The rumors were true.

When the students returned in the fall of 2023, the towel was back.

“We got the same room,” Conrads says.

Halloween arrived, and the six devised an elaborate in-joke. Each would dress as a different Disney princess.

“A lot of it came down to hair color,” Jones says. “And price.”

Jones went as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Conrads as Anna from Frozen, Soja as Cinderella, Daly as Snow White, Narcelles as Jasmine from Aladdin, and McDonald as the fishy protagonist from The Little Mermaid.

“I was initially a little hesitant about dressing up as a princess,” McDonald says. “But eventually I bit the bullet and bought an Ariel costume.”

By this time, they were seeing the towel in a different — dare we say deeper? — way.

“The more popular it got, the more the message resonated with us,” Soja says.

“It was kind of like a poem,” Narcelles says. “You see more in it the more you read it. It’s a message that built upon itself.”

Together we are strong. That had meaning here on The Hill, at a rigorous and intimate liberal arts college where everyone lives on campus all four years, where friendships begun at age 18 are ultimately tallied in decades, where faculty know students by name, and where generations of those students have gone on to great things. Students like Michael Eisner ’64, the former chairman and CEO of Disney, for instance.

As for these six students, they are living elsewhere for their senior year. But they plan to arrange for the towel to stay with the new occupants of their Shaw suite.

“It would be cool to pass it down,” Daly says.

Jones wonders what it would be like to return to campus, long after graduation, and see the towel in their old window.

“That would be crazy,” he says.

“Like 30 years down the road,” McDonald says.

Jones laughs. “I was thinking like 5.”

Five years or 30, that would be something, they agree. To have what started as this silly moment among college friends turn first into something meaningful and then lasting, woven into the very fabric of what makes Denison strong.

Published April 2024
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