DeKALB – Kaitlyn King was home sick from high school when the news of a shooting at Northern Illinois University, where her father, Joe, worked flashed across the screen.
She vividly remembers Feb. 14, 2008, and learning her father was unharmed. King, a Sycamore native, is part of the university’s effort to remember that day as one of five NIU students to receive the Forward, Together Forward Scholarship this year.
The $4,000 awards were established in 2009 and are given annually to up to five NIU students who display strong character, compassion, ambition and community service. They are given in honor of Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter, the five people killed in NIU’s Cole Hall.
Joe Palmer, Kaitlyn King, Juan Molina Hernandez, Lauren Noonan and Christian Villalobos received the scholarship this year.
“It’s really special,” said King, 20, a junior speech pathology and audiology major. “Not because of the money, but because of being honored to carry on their legacy.”
Noonan, a 21-year-old Naperville native, is also a junior majoring in speech pathology. She remembers being a freshman in high school who had considered NIU when she learned about the shooting. The scholarship is a way to respect those who lost their lives, as well as their families, she said.
“I really appreciate that people at the school remember,” Noonan said. “I think that it makes NIU a little bit stronger community. I want to keep showing people that it’s important to contribute to their community.”
College once seemed like an unattainable dream for Villalobos, 21, of Chicago. Now a junior majoring in business, Villalobos said after she graduates she will return to NIU to give back and to honor those the scholarship was created to remember.
“I feel like my education will provide me the same kind of opportunities they wanted,” Villalobos said. “It’s such an honor. The moment I give that diploma to my mom is going to be the highlight of my life.”
Palmer, 21, a junior from Rolling Meadows majoring in international relations, hopes once he graduates he will be able to pursue a government job that will allow him to contribute in some way to reducing violence.
“It’s incredibly humbling to have your name attached to this legacy,” Palmer said. “I think this is part of the new chapter we’re starting at NIU. We reflect on it, but we keep moving forward.”
Hernandez, a junior majoring in studio art design, considers it a privelege to be chosen.
“Knowing that the scholarship came from tragedy is hard,” said Hernandez, 20, of Aurora. “But it’s beautiful knowing that out of this tragedy five students every year are getting help to accomplish their goals.”
NIU will release biographical information about the winners when they are honored at a private, on-campus ceremony in March.
The university will mark the sixth anniversary of the shooting with a moment of silence at 3:06 p.m. today. Bells will toll five times to honor those who lost their lives, and the Memorial Garden adjacent to Cole Hall will be open for peaceful reflection.