Saturday, February 14, 2009

NIU Remembers

Today is the one-year marker of the shootings at NIU, and it was a wrenching day of hope and care and thought (this is a university, after all). I only have my perspective, and I wasn't on campus at the time of the shootings. My son was, though, and I never EVER want to relive the hour when I couldn't get through to him. But he was fine, and I was a little removed from the intensity of the drama.

But my take-home message from being back on campus and from attending parts of the memorial day is that I'm proud of us. I'm proud of the university and the town. We have done all right, we really have. I did see some jumpiness this past week in the lead-up to this day, but mostly I saw calm hope and strength. I've been struck by how changed President Peters seems. His leadership has really changed -not that it was bad before- but that's helped to change the feel on campus. The town has changed in relationship to the university. And staff and students have changed towards each other.

I'm not much of a "yeay, rah... team spirit" kind of girl, and we're still an imperfect messy place (witness the recent fights in the residence halls) but it was touching to see the Convo Center full-ish (not as many people as I expected) of people wearing red and black. The speeches were thoughtful and not at all the shallow sentimentality I was afraid of. The music, the visuals, the memorials themselves... the whole thing was stunningly done.

Of course all of that must barely, barely touch the pain of the families of the slain students. I know from my own experiences of psychic pain that friends can hold part of the burden for a time. I hope we collectively held some of their pain for them today. Senator Durbin said something like (and this isn't an exact quote so don't blame him if this isn't quite right) we now have to make room in our hearts for their (meaning the five students') dreams.

I'll do my best for Julianna Gehant, Daniel Parmenter, Ryanne Mace, Catalina Garcia and Gayle Dubowski. Godspeed, young ones. We'll try to make you proud.

(And if we could do something about getting a decent school song, that would be progress indeed.)

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