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Vaughn Vandegrift
Vaughn Vandegrift
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'Reflections on the Northern Illinois University Tragedy'

by SIUE Chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift

February 25, 2008

Today, SIUE joins the entire higher education community in memorializing the lives of the 5 victims killed during the rampage on February 14 at Northern Illinois University. Today, we come together, just ten months since we mourned the victims at Virginia Tech. Today, as a community we express our condolences and support to the victims' families, loved ones, the injured, and all the members of the NIU community who have suffered from this horrific event. And today, as I did following the Virginia Tech tragedy, I find myself asking the same questions:

How and where do we find words to explain the inexplicable to these families? How and where do we find words to console them, to assuage the grief they suffer, or even to help the family of the shooter cope with their devastation? How and where do we find words to explain to our own families, to other colleagues and friends, and to our country - why tragic events such as this one seem to be occurring with greater frequency within our society? And how do we deal with the egregious contradiction that, on a university campus, on ground that is designed, protected, and held by society to be a place where human potential is fulfilled, that human potential should be destroyed in such a horrendous and precipitous act. As we light candles here today in memory of these victims, how do we not think of the extinguishing of the lives those flames represent, and the loss to our society of individuals who worked and studied at NIU?

How do we not think of Daniel Parmenter*, the 20-year old finance major who worked for the campus newspaper and was described as a "gentle giant?" How do we not think of Catalina Garcia*, the youngest of four siblings who had moved from Guadalajara, Mexico, to the Chicago area with her family and who was studying to be a teacher? How do we not think of Ryanne Mace*, a 19-year old psychology major, who, as her parents' only child, was the "light" of their lives? How do we not think of Julianna Gehant*, a former U.S. Army soldier who was studying to teach elementary children? And, how do we not think of Gayle Dubowski*, the shy 20-year old with a big heart and a ready smile? "How do we not think of these losses, each one equally moving, and each one representing a person working daily to fulfill potential that has now been abruptly and violently ended, erasing contributions to society that will never be made?"

"As we reflect on this second university tragedy to occur within the span of a year, the question still to be answered is: How do we ensure that this will never happen again?" The answers to that question are elusive, but critical to the future of not only higher education, but society as well. Should we fence in the university core buildings? Should we install metal detectors at our institutions of higher learning, as we have done in so many public buildings? Should we identify and search everyone who comes on campus? Our opinions on the best methods for prevention and recovery will differ. We do have emergency plans in place at SIUE and will continue to perfect them.

Nevertheless, I believe the initial step in finding those answers must be in our individual and collective will to never forget. To never forget that human potential is to be valued and nurtured. To never forget the pain associated with such a loss of promise. To never forget our colleagues at NIU. For our University it means never forgetting the maddening irony that these flames of humanity that we memorialize today were snuffed out on a campus created to light flames of human potential.

Regrettably, I also spoke these words after Virginia Tech and I must speak them again:

On this day of remembrance, all of us can commit in our own ways, using our own potential, here within our SIUE community and in our external communities, to support and promote understanding, to protect individual rights, and to uphold the sanctity of human life. Today we, the SIUE community, offer our deepest sympathies, our heartfelt prayers and our steadfast support to our brothers and sisters at Northern Illinois University. We will never forget.

*Information on victims obtained from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (February 15, 2008)
Statements in italics and in quotes taken from "Virginia Tech Response" by Vaughn Vandegrift, SIUE website (April 19, 2007)

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