On Saturday, five students were honored for their character, their ambitions and their service to Northern Illinois University and the world around them.
The first-ever Forward, Together Forward scholarships were awarded at a luncheon Saturday. Deanna Bach, Jacqueline Do, Scott Hudek, Justin Kuryliw and Grace Weidner exemplify the five students lost Feb. 14, 2008, and each will receive a one-time scholarship of $4,000.
Seventy-one students applied for the scholarships. Criteria were based on academics, achievements, community service, extracurricular activities, employment experience, hobbies and special interests.
“Rather than doing something purely on academics, we really felt it should be university-wide and a celebration of the character of those students we lost,” said Mallory Simpson, president of the NIU Foundation. “They were all collectively and individually phenomenal people.”
The community response was tremendous. A total of 1,639 donors contributed a total of $631,390 to the Forward, Together Forward scholarship fund, Simpson said.
“People responded quickly, out of their hearts, and just wanted to do something,” she said.
Deanna Bach has always had a passion for music. Just two weeks ago, she brought that passion to new heights as she wrote a song in honor of five students who were lost last year.
“I think music unites people, brings people together,” said Bach, a 21-year-old junior from Wheaton who aspires to be a Spanish teacher.
She put a video of herself performing “Together Forward Again (We Will Honor Them)” on YouTube, and hasn’t yet decided whether she’ll perform it publicly.
Having visited Vietnam twice, Jacqueline Do has seen the disparities in health care for children living in third-world countries, and this has further accelerated her dreams of being a pediatrician.
A DeKalb native, the 19-year old sophomore said the events of Feb. 14 changed her life dramatically. After the tragedy, she stayed in her room and didn’t want to talk about what had happened, she said.
“I learned from this event that you need to lean on other people,” she said. “It’s OK to be scared.”
That message is reflected in her reason for applying for the scholarship.
“As long as we have the opportunity, we should take that opportunity and live life to the fullest,” she said.
When students came into the Veteran’s Assistance office saying there had been a shooting, Scott Hudek sprang to action.
The 29-year-old Air Force veteran was one of the first responders to the scene inside Cole Hall, and said that his service in the military prepared him for what was happening.
“I just kinda reacted. I went into military mode,” said Hudek, a Downers Grove sophomore majoring in political science who wants to earn a joint public administration-law degree.
His service continues; Hudek founded the Huskie Disaster Relief Program so students can take spring break trips to New Orleans to help with post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding.
A lifelong DeKalb resident, Justin Kuryliw poured his energy into generating excitement for NIU athletics. He didn’t want Feb. 14, 2008, to hinder any of that school spirit.
“It kinda gets to you,” the 20-year-old junior business major said. “The fact that it’s my hometown, the fact that it’s my school.”
Kuryliw was part of a group that visited Virginia Tech University last spring, where they represented NIU at the one-year anniversary of the shootings there. He came back with the idea for Huskies United.
After Feb. 14, he said, the campus was a united front.
“Everyone was leaning on each other,” he said. “The mission of Huskies United is to bring that feeling back. It’s not because of the shooting or anything. It was a good feeling.”
Grace Weidner, a sophomore from Gurnee, was in Cole Hall auditorium when the Feb. 14 shooting took place.
“I was really moved at how they created the scholarship in memory of my five classmates,” Weider, 19, said.
Now she lives in tribute to those classmates. As a communications major, she wants to live out her dreams “to honor the victims in everything I do – being a better person, a better students, a better daughter, a better girlfriend.”