NIU has given us Joan Allen, Robert Zemeckis, and the voice of Homer Simpson, but weeks ago, Northern Illinois University gave us a tragedy.
Already I’ve heard mummers of Columbine and Virginia Tech on the buzzing text and static chatter of my co-workers’ cell-phones. And that’s what’s terrifying me. These places have lost their faces to lives lost. All around the country, NIU seems synonymous with more sprayed bullets and more spilled blood. Life will go on, but no one will think of Corn Fest and Huskie football when they hear Northern Illinois University. This is the taint of tragedy.
It’s been almost two years since I graduated Northern Illinois University, but I can still see those streets every time I close my eyes. I remember the first time I toured that campus – just the sight of that old gargoyle-laced architecture and the campus comic book store were enough to get my attention. Now every photo on the six o’clock news is on brick road I had walked on for three years straight. My memories are stronger than tragedy, and that’s what I mourn for the most – that the rest of the world will not know these roads, these places, these people when the headlines go to print the next morning.
When I was young, I felt as though the world blamed my generation for Columbine – that the eyes of the world scrutinizing our every move for what happened there. As an adult, I see the world more grieving than scrutinizing, and I know from experience that such grief takes many forms – and not all of them are quiet.
I believe NIU will walk again. I’ve seen the shivering determination of students huddling together as they plow through winter on their way to class. When you freeze in the red-eye lecture halls and dorms of DeKalb, you freeze together, and when you thrive in the warmth of changing seasons, you thrive together. I’ve seen the sparkling smiles spring can bring to the campus. I know the Huskies will howl again. I just hope the rest of the world is listening when they do.
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