NIU President John Peters led a ceremony this afternoon to mark the fifth anniversary of the Feb. 14, 2008, tragedy inside Cole Hall. Below are his remarks.
By most measures, five years is a fleetingly brief time. On a college campus, however, that span approximates a generation.
So it is that as we come together today, almost no undergraduate student currently enrolled at Northern experienced firsthand the terrible tragedy of five years ago. None of them experienced the shock, the heartbreak or the despair that gripped our campus that day.
Conversely, none of them had the privilege of sharing campus with the five who were taken from us that day.
- They never got to benefit from the generosity of Gayle Dubowski
- Never got to share a laugh with the always-smiling Catalina Garcia
- Never saw how Juliana Gehant brightened a room just by entering
- Never got to benefit from the insights Ryanne Mace shared with classmates
- And they never got the opportunity to enjoy the friendship of the “gentle giant” that was Dan Parmenter
However, while they may not realize it, today’s students are touched by the presence of those five students each and every day.
Because what happened in Cole Hall five years ago forever changed Northern. It taught us lessons that have transformed what it means to be a Huskie.
- We learned to cherish one another, because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
- We learned to take care of one another. Not just in times of tragedy, but every day.
- We learned that the pain of tragedy is far reaching, but that the grace of compassion reaches even further.
- We learned that in a world of harshness and pettiness we should strive to rise above the rancor and treat all those around us with kindness and respect.
- Finally, we learned that when misfortune befalls us, the best response is to learn from it and move forward … together forward.
Those lessons are a gift left to us by those taken from us far too soon. It is their legacy. By heeding those lessons, it is a way for us to take some good from what is otherwise a senseless tragedy.
This is the last time I will have the honor of presiding over this remembrance. Like that generation of students that has moved on, so must I. However, I will always hold in my heart those lessons, trying to apply them every day as a humble tribute to Gayle, Catalina, Juliana, Ryanne and Dan. I hope you will do the same.
Following the ceremony, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued the following statement:
Five years ago we lost five innocent souls in a tragedy that shook our state and our nation. That dark day was full of sadness, fear and despair and we will never forget it.
But the day after, and every day since, has been filled with hope, strength and compassion.
The NIU family came together to mourn those we have lost by celebrating what they brought to our lives. We repurposed Cole Hall to ensure it will be a place of learning and achievement for thousands of students for years to come.
By supporting each other in good times and bad, we made our community stronger. Today we honor Catalina Garcia, Daniel Parmenter, Gayle Dubowski, Julianna Gehant and Ryanne Mace. May God rest their immortal souls.