“Legacy of Character” Memorial Service

Introductory Remarks by President John Peters

Good morning, dear friends, neighbors, students and alumni, faculty and staff. Welcome to all who gather here in remembrance and reflection.

Today we are thinking about all those touched by last year’s events, and we are reflecting on the year that has passed.  Full perspective is a mountain that takes many years to climb, but I think we have begun the ascent with greater understanding of what we have lost and what we have gained.

At the heart of both those emotions is the subject of this commemoration:  A celebration of character.

In the lives of those we have lost, in the determination of those who were saved, in the unselfish acts of kindness which abounded after our tragedy, in all that and much more, we have seen character defined and exemplified. 

Few attributes have been written about with more passion than this thing we call character – it is the deciding feature of a life well-lived. 

For me, the best definition of character I’ve ever heard is also one of the simplest, and it goes like this:  “Character is what you do when you think no one is watching.”

When we perform a kindness with no thought of being thanked, or postpone pleasure until the hard work is done; when we make the right, rather than the easiest, choice; when we do more than what is required or expected; when we give credit rather than taking it; give others the benefit of the doubt; when we pay more attention to the needs of others than to our own; when we live our convictions, even when no one is looking, we are driven by character.

Dan, Gayle, Ryanne, Catalina, and Julianna had character, and we are much richer for having known them. Those who bravely continue their struggle with physical and emotional wounds have displayed character, and we continue to wrap them in a warm embrace.

And the thousands of people throughout this community, around our region and across the nation who have made a place in their hearts for NIU have shown their true character in ways we will never forget.

The legacy of character – in all its forms – is what we celebrate today. Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Hard Work, Compassion, Discipline, Creativity, Self-Sacrifice, Empathy, Caring.

These building blocks of character found unique expression in the lives of Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace, and Daniel Parmenter.

They found expression as well in the actions of a multitude of people who poured forth their love and concern in countless acts of courage and kindness in the aftermath of our tragedy.

Character resides in the deepest recesses of our being.  It is what we are remembered for, and it is what we pass on to others by example.  In simple terms, character IS our legacy.

A year ago, we vowed to not let an act of violence define us.  And we have not.  We have met tragedy with forebearance, grief with comfort, and need with compassion.

We have filled a dark void with the light of our love for one another.  Today, this above all else is what it means to be a Huskie.

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