NIU Remembrance

Ten years ago on this date, a tragic event occurred on the campus of Northern Illinois University. By today’s standards, it was a time of innocence and the event created shock. The tragic loss of 5 lives was international news; today such events with the loss of far more lives are all too common.

While NIU had an emergency plan, it had not been tested. Yet campus and city police, county sheriff department staff, fire and emergency medical responders reacted in a coordinated fashion. Kishwaukee Hospital nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel who were not scheduled for duty on that day rushed to the hospital to help as soon as they heard of the tragedy.

Hospital staff were nearly overwhelmed by the crush of family members, classmates, and news media seeking information, yet they managed to serve everyone’s interests with compassion and professionalism.

Those who responded, according to DeKalb Deputy Fire Chief Jeff McMaster “Went through all the stages of grieving: disbelief, bartering, denial, anger.”

Faced with the worst tragedy in NIU’s history, President John Peters was adamant from the outset that “NIU will not be defined by this tragedy.” And it hasn’t been. Over the past decade, NIU has turned its focus from questioning how and why something so terrible could happen, to affirming the importance of living bravely and meaningfully- and recognizing the power of love. We have moved Forward Together Forward.

A decade after this senseless event, NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman said recently “we think of those who still bear the scars of injury, to body, mind and spirit. Ten years NIU students are the community’s students, and NIU employees are their neighbors. Ten years later, we have learned that healing is a unique journey for every individual, and that shared experience builds strong bonds. And a decade after our tragedy, we celebrate the gift of perspective: We know what is important, and what is not.”

NIU Police Comander Donald Rodman who was on the scene that day, said It’s an incident that has refined me. It hasn’t defined me. I want to get better, to continue to grow, and to help others get better and grow.”

In this chamber hangs a picture of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln who said on another sad occasion, and I paraphrase, that while we will little note nor long remember what is said, we can never forget who they were.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced. that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Yes, we shall not forget the promising lives and careers of:

· Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville, who was studying Psychology

· Gayle Dubowski of Carol Stream, studying anthropology

· Catalina Garcia of Cicero and

· Julianna Gehant of Mendota both studying elementary education

· And Daniel Parmenter of West Chester a student in finance.

This past Sunday, 5 more scholarships were presented to NIU students who demonstrated the qualities of those who lost their lives. Qualities of character, motivation, inspiration, academic success, community service, perseverance and integrity. The NIU community is remembering. And wreaths are being laid in the memorial garden by Cole Hall. The building has been reconstituted and a museum sits on the hallowed ground.

I ask the body to pause at 3:06 this afternoon to remember the lives of these students, and to say a prayer for healing of all those who still bear the scare of February 14, 2008.

On this Christian religious holiday of Ash Wednesday as Christians prepare to appreciate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I ask for a moment of silence to also remember the lives of Ryanne, Gayle, Catalina, Julianna and Daniel and dedicate ourselves to their values for integrity; hard work; serving, inspiring and helping others and personal sacrifice.

Thank you for these moments of reflection.

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