When the Whistle Blows
By Kristen Bailey UPDATED April 3, 2018
The Georgia Tech community is always deeply saddened to lose one of its own. In 2001, a group of concerned students, faculty, and staff realized the community did not have a way to collectively honor those who pass away. Thus, a new tradition began.
Near the end of each spring semester, When the Whistle Blows honors the memory of enrolled students and employees of the Institute who died during the previous year. The names of honorees are published in the Technique and the Whistle prior to the event. This year’s event on April 4 will honor 19 members of the campus community.
The simple ceremony offers a solemn tribute at Harrison Square, in the shadow of Tech Tower. A unity candle is lit to represent the entire Georgia Tech community, and a family representative is invited to light a candle on behalf of their loved one. Each family also receives a small gift of remembrance from Georgia Tech.
Reverend Steve Fazenbaker, director of the Wesley Foundation, provides an opening message at the ceremony each year. He considers it an honor to participate and an important aspect of campus life.
“It is so important that we recognize the loss our campus community experiences when a student, faculty member, or staff member dies,” he said. “Because we each have our own traditions and ways of dealing with the death of those close to us, it can be tricky to plan a ceremony that addresses everyone's needs and expectations. The diversity of faith traditions on campus makes the task that much harder.”
Though the Wesley Foundation has a religious affiliation, the ceremony does not.
“By including a chaplain in the ceremony, Georgia Tech acknowledges the spiritual side of death and loss. At the same time, we make sure we avoid deference to any one particular religious tradition in the opening reflection, so that the words might be meaningful to all in attendance regardless of background," Fazenbaker said.
Tech’s iconic steam whistle is blown once for each member of the community being honored that day. Before the whistle breaks the evening silence, the alma mater is played to remind those present of our time at Tech and to relay the hope that we will always be united as a community.