DeKALB – “Forward, together forward” are more than lyrics to Northern Illinois University’s fight song to Jeanne Meyer. They’re a motto she uses to describe how the community has come together in the past 10 years since the shooting Feb. 14, 2008, that took the lives of five NIU students.
Meyer was an off-duty NIU police officer the day of the shooting and was called back to campus to assist in the investigation.
“I got to know students and families personally, and they carried out such resiliency and strength through it all,” said Meyer, now a student affairs professional at NIU. “Even though they faced such tragedy, they kept moving forward, and it’s remarkable how the community all came together.”
Meyer was part of the committee that worked for more than six months to create the “Forward, Together: Remembering” exhibit on display in the Gallery Lounge at the NIU Holmes Student Center.
The exhibit, hosted by the Pick Museum of Anthropology, is described as “a tribute to the resilience of the NIU campus community” and features archival materials, as well as items sent and donated to NIU from around the world.
Items on display include a remembrance video, photos of past years’ remembrance events, image and biography panels of the five student victims produced by NIU Creative Services, a collaborative memorial mural created by five NIU arts classes and a memorial mosaic made of 693 tiles.
Meyer said that many of the items in the exhibit are collaborative and represent students coming together in remembrance.
“I think that the exhibit is a good representation of the sense of family at NIU,” Meyer said. “We are all part of the Huskie family and will always work together, look after and take care of each other. One of the items, the tile mosaic, was hand-painted by students. It’s representative of us coming together, and that artwork is more powerful than just one tile.”
Students Ashley Luoma and Kate McKinsey, both sophomore journalism majors, viewed the exhibit
Feb. 8 during a break between classes.
Luoma said she had a class in Cole Hall on Feb. 14 last year, and she couldn’t help but have an eerie feeling the entire day.
“It’s always something you hear about happening somewhere else, in another city or in another state,” Luoma said. “Seeing the exhibit really puts it in perspective. When I first came in and saw the remembrance video, I felt like tearing up.
“I’m glad they created this exhibit and are holding events this week to remember the students that lost their lives and in memory of what happened,” she said. “It shows that we have kept going strong even though something so horrible happened 10 years ago.”
McKinsey said that reading the students’ biographies and seeing their pictures made her feel emotionally connected to the victims of the tragedy.
“I think that the exhibit humanizes the victims, especially when you read their ages and what they liked to do,” McKinsey said. “I’m the same age now, and there’s so much I want to do in my life. I couldn’t imagine that happening to me, my friends or anyone.”
The exhibit was just one of many ways NIU and the community came together to remember the Feb. 14 anniversary. Other events included a community appreciation reception and candlelight vigil Friday and a reflection walk, first responders recognition ceremony and a concert performed by the NIU School of Music on Saturday.
Today, the community is invited to gather outside Cole Hall as wreaths are placed on the memorial stones at the Peaceful Reflection Garden. There will be a moment of silence and the tolling of bells at 3:06 p.m.
Kelly Wesener Michael, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said she and many others at NIU mark the passing of time as “Before 2/14” and “After 2/14.”
Wesener Michael was on campus the day of the shooting, working as the executive director of housing and dining in Neptune Hall, next to Cole Hall. She remembers faculty and staff rushing in to tell news about what happened, followed by students seeking safety. She helped the students by bringing them water and blankets as they waited for first responders to come.
“We all stood together that day and every year since, remembering the past yet moving forward into the future,” Wesener Michael said. “It was a significant moment in our school’s history, and we have gathered together with strength, resiliency, hope and optimism. That truly is what community is all about.”
By creating the exhibit and hosting remembrance events, Meyer said she hopes to bring the DeKalb and NIU communities closer together now and into the future.
“Not a year goes by that we don’t think about the terrible and horrible tragedy,” Meyer said. “We still hold those students in our hearts and will always remember that day. As a school and as a community, we are very different. However, we have had the ability to move forward and become stronger.”