I remember my first visit to Northern Illinois University. I was an incoming Junior, transferring from a local community college. I still didn’t drive and was expected to go to orientation. My mom drove me the 45 miles to school for the orientation, I think she brought my grandmother along. I don’t know what they did while I attended orientation, but afterwards we ate lunch at Kings Restaurant in Sycamore. That was the year the decomposed body of the girl was found on farmland in the area and the restaurant had a drawing of what she might have looked like. The restaurant had the drawing by the cash register. I remember not being able to eat much lunch, thinking about that dead girl.
I don’t remember much about the orientation, except we did a lot of walking.
NIU has a nice campus and is, or was, basically in the middle of a cornfield. There was nothing but fields of corn and farms for miles around, and there, rising high in the sky (compared to corn) was the Student Union, I think. I recall there was also a pond and once a year students would gather near the pond for a “smoke out” and openly smoke marijuana.
I remember winters at NIU. Walking from one building to another building were some of the coldest experiences I have ever had. The cold wind would sweep across the flat land and nearly knock me down.
I never felt a real kinship with the place because I was not a resident. I lived at home and got rides with various folks, paying them gas money in exchange for a lift to school. After graduating, I rarely returned to campus. I went back a few times while my boyfriend was working on his Masters degree, once to see a play, I think — The Elephant Man. A few years ago we drove around campus to show our kids where we went to college. I remember we took a photo of the grotesque in front of Altgeld hall. Clare liked that.
After moving away from the Midwest very few people I’d talk to knew of the school.
Today that’s changed. Today a gunman killed 6 students, including himself and wounded 15 others in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. Today, and for a while, people will have heard of the school that sat in the middle of a cornfield.