Tech traditions, past and present

Students race down Freshman Hill in the annual Mini 500. Beginning in 1969, the tradition draws a large turnout every year. // Photos by Ashika Srivastava Student Publications

For many colleges across America, students reflect their school spirit through pride and celebrations of traditions in the past. Balancing the line between college representation that aligns with modern values while staying loyal to its history and alumni often leads to a unique intersection of past and present and a reflection of the concept of “tradition.” 

One’s college experience is unique to every person, making campus traditions important and worthy of preservation; they provide a commonality of experiences and feelings to share between people who are otherwise so different. While individuals may connect with certain traditions on a personal level, these widespread celebrations have held many communities together throughout time. 

At Tech, there is no other time that puts these traditions on display than during Homecoming Week. This year’s homecoming falls on Oct. 26–28 and features long-beloved practices, including the Mini 500, Wreck Parade and Freshman Cake Race. 

Shouts of  “the good word” and the fight song are sure to be heard all throughout the weekend festivities and the annual Homecoming Game. As societal and political climates have evolved throughout the decades, however, the reactions to certain traditions have prompted much discussion and change. At a school like Tech, with some traditions dating back to over a century ago, changes are inevitable. 

The Freshman Cake Race, as it is known now, is a half-mile race for freshmen on the morning of Homecoming Weekend that awards cupcakes at the finish line for all participants, however, at its inception in 1911, it was neither for freshmen nor had any cakes.

Instead, it was a cross-country-style run that was open to students of all classes. Soon, wives of faculty members began baking cakes for the winners, and the race became mandatory in 1935, earning its respective name. 

Dean George C. Griffin often used this race to scout out future recruits for the track team, and many young men became Tech athletes because of this. 

At these times, there were no women running the race or even at the school. When the first women received admission to Tech in 1953, they ran on a different course, a 100-yard dash. With the first Homecoming Queen able to be elected the next year, the winners of the men’s race received a kiss from her as their prize. 

Nowadays, the winners of the race still receive a cake, and everyone else also gets cupcakes for participation. Of course, the race is not mandatory anymore and it is co-ed, open to all freshman undergraduates. Due to standardized safety protocols and growing class sizes, the modern-day course is now a half-mile stretch instead. No one receives a kiss from the homecoming queen, now referred to as Ramblin Royalty.

Another piece of Tech history that has seen changes throughout the decades is the fight song, “Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech.” Since its inception in 1908, it is commonly sung at football games after a touchdown, other sporting games and is taught to all incoming freshmen during the Week of Welcome. 

Although the lyrics have never been officially changed, there have been multiple attempts to do so, most recently in 2021. In 2015, an SGA survey showed that the majority of students as well as the majority of alumni supported keeping the original lyrics. 

Despite a formal referendum on this, many students currently sing a revised version of the second stanza, from “Oh! If I had a daughter, sir, I’d dress her in White and Gold, and put her on the campus to cheer the brave and bold,” to “raise the ratio” in the second line. There are also various add-ons to the end of the song that have changed with the different generations of students. 

Traditions are a reflection of the enduring legacy of a group of people that allow for shared experiences and bonding throughout generations. At Tech, the characteristics of the student body many decades ago are able to be connected to the current students and community that currently make up the school despite the generational gap. For this reason, it is only natural to see the evolution of certain traditions to more accurately represent the values of a present-day institution and the diverse people that it serves. 

Homecoming Week provides an opportunity for the community to look back on and celebrate the people that have made Tech into its present, as well as to provide an opportunity to take pride in its future for all.