President John G. Peters
“Healing is a matter of time,” Hippocrates wrote, “but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”
Northern Illinois University, I believe, is living proof of that piece of wisdom.
This is a changed place, yes, but a stronger place. Our hearts were broken, yes, but our resolve is fortified. We have glimpsed avenues for the repair and restoration of our souls, and we have turned down those roads. We have gripped the hands of those who have reached out to us, and we have rejoiced each time we felt a squeeze on our own outstretched hands.
A year after the unimaginable horror of Feb. 14, 2008, we mark this anniversary as the most somber of occasions.
Our day of pause and reflection comes, however, with the fiercest of determination to greet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow with great excitement. Certainly we mourn our lost Huskies, and we continue to grieve with their families, but we also celebrate the survivors and the joy of life. Truly, we are moving “Forward, Together Forward.”
The simple passage of time presents us with numerous ways to heal, as our “Images of Hope” photo exhibition reveals. The springtime budding of trees, sprouting of flowers and greening of grass remind us that, just as nature returns to glory after a long and cold winter, we too can live life to its fullest despite the tremendous pain we have endured.
We have discovered the warmth of hugs. We have enjoyed the happiness of smiles. We have realized the mending power of tears. We have heard the optimism found in song. We have experienced the love found in community.
We not only embrace words such as character, courage, hope, kindness, recovery and renewal, but we strive to embody and promote them.
Our students are older and wiser in ways not typically offered in our lecture halls, laboratories and textbooks. The past year has profoundly deepened their understanding of the precious and fragile gift of life. Some might regard that a sad fact, but I do not. These students are more open. They are more caring. They are more loving.
Like all of the NIU family, I have spent the last year on an emotional journey. I visited hospital rooms and funeral homes. I stood on the stage of a standing-room-only Convocation Center as we wept and prayed and steeled ourselves for the coming days. I opened the doors of my office to students and parents, to residents of our DeKalb County towns, to lawmakers of all levels, to reporters from local newspapers and national television networks. I witnessed generosity and compassion. I collected inspiration and strength.
Not one day goes by when I do not think of Feb. 14, and of those five beautiful and beloved faces – Gayle, Catalina, Julianna, Ryanne and Dan, their names forever imprinted on my heart. I remember the red-and-black ribbons. I remember the “Forward, Together Forward” posters in the windows and the similar encouragement spelled out on the marquees of our hometown places of business and worship.
Yet every day I also think of the incredible promise found in each one of us; of the knowledge we are acquiring; of the discoveries we are making; of the public service we are extending. We are here to learn, and to teach. We are here to dream, and to succeed. We are here to make this campus, this community and this world a friendlier place.
We are here because, in spite of the tragedy of a year ago, we value the education NIU provides. We value its diversity. We value its freedom of speech and thought. We value its camaraderie of students, faculty and staff who are here to seek and achieve better lives for themselves, their families, their friends. We refuse to allow an act of violence to diminish or derail that.
This is the NIU that I know. This is the NIU that I love. This is the NIU that I am proud to call home. A new day awaits.