When the Whistle Blows honors campus loss

President Cabrera holds a candle during the ceremony. The candle symbolizes the heart and minds of the campus community. // Photo by Tyler Parker Student Publications

On the evening of April 4, the whistle broke the silence of its regular schedule with 18 sequential blows, representing the 18 individuals of Tech’s community who have passed away during 2023 for the annual When the Whistle Blows ceremony. The inauguration of When the Whistle Blows in 2001 was in response to a need in the Tech community for a space to collectively mourn, remember and honor the departed students, faculty and administration of the past year. 

The initiative for such an event, introduced by a group of students and faculty, led to this annual campus-wide ceremony where the memories and legacy of deceased individuals who were active parts of Tech’s campus are celebrated. 

This year, When the Whistle Blows took place in the historic Tech Tower, a long lasting and representative campus symbol. A procession with the honorees’ families and friends alongside another one of Tech’s beloved symbols, the Ramblin’ Wreck, started off the ceremony. The solemn sounds of “The Procession” by Henry Frantz on the bagpipes acted as the accompaniment. 

Aimée Ogando, fourth-year CE and 2023-2024 Ramblin’ Royalty, began the ceremony with a brief welcome speech for all in attendance, followed by remarks from President Ángel Cabrera.

President Cabrera explained the only two special occasions in which the whistle is sounded at Tech, one for touchdowns at home football games, and other for this ceremony.  

As the oldest tradition on Tech’s campus, the iconic steam whistle was first installed in 1892. It dates back to the time of Tech when it was still a trade school but it continues to mark the daily schedule and time for students in the present. As a familiar but remarkable sound, it can be heard all throughout Tech’s campus and Atlanta, marking its relevance of the tradition at When the Whistle Blows’ ceremonies. 

“It [the whistle] sounds its final blast in the evening at 15 minutes to 6 [o’clock] and then falls silent until morning. Today we will conclude our memorial service by breaking that silence … When the whistle resumes its regular schedule tomorrow morning, those routine blasts will have a deeper meaning for each one of us,” Cabrera said at the ceremony. 

President Cabrera went on to light the unity candle, symbolizing the collective heart and minds of all the students, faculty and administration of Tech and their participation in this ceremony of remembrance. The Reading of the Names was hosted by Will Jimerson, Staff Council Chair, and Amanda Johnston, fourth-year CHBE and 2023-2024 Ramblin’ Royalty. 

With the announcement of each name, the family and friends of each honoree walked to the front to light a candle in memory of their loved one. 

Of this tradition, President Cabarea explained, “we know that the light from the contributions that they made to their beloved families, friends and Institute will continue to shine on our campus and in our lives.”

Attendees were then gifted with a small figurine of the whistle, designed and made by the Georgia Tech Research Institute Machine Shop and College of Design’s Digital Fabrication Lab. The figurine’s bases were inscribed with a quote from the 1914 edition of the Blueprint, seen below.

“Blow on, stern Monarch of Tech’s mighty crew, / Be always firm and staid: / To your compelling call we’ll e’re be true / Til each his part has played.”

This simple but sincere ceremony emphasized the life, legacy and importance of each individual and everyone that they impacted, symbolized by the flame of the bright candlelight. Aside from the reading of each name, complete silence filled the room, creating an emotional and heartfelt atmosphere. 

The Treble Choir were then introduced to sing the “Alma Mater,” followed by the 18 blows of the whistle. While the sound of the whistle typically marks the hustle and bustle of campus, its ceremonial meaning as a final, sonorous tribute to the lives of the honorees was celebrated in silent reflection amongst the attendees. 

The open format of this ceremony allows any and all members of the Tech community to participate in this act of remembrance. This serves as an important reminder of community, grievance and the memories of the departed to those close to them. 

For family and friends, it is an assurance that their beloved is honored and respected in a significant way. It also reflects Tech’s commitment to its own community and the recognition of each individual’s values and meaning. 

These nuances are what makes When the Whistle Blows more than just a simple ceremony — it remains a profound tradition of remembrance and unity in the Tech community and all that have had a part in it, past and present. 

For a comprehensive list of those honoted at this year’s cermony, please visit news.gatech.edu/features/2023/04/when-whistle-blows.