about the memorial

On February 14, 2008 at Northern Illinois University, a former student opened gunfire on a lecture hall, killing five, injuring over thirty, and rocking an entire community. Five years later, with an official stone memorial in place donning the school’s fight song, “Forward, Together Forward,” this unofficial memorial of the same name seeks to let the shape of the public memory be formed from the texture of the community members’ individual narratives.

As a student on campus that day, I have my story, as do others. Yet, our stories are not usually aggregated, shared, or combined; through sharing our memories, we can process them individually. Collaborative storytelling allows us to put these stories together, forming an overall shape, without losing the texture of each individual narrative.

The properties of projected light on sheer screens evoke a spirit of solemnity and catharsis—a safe place to face a difficult subject—in which the viewer can simultaneously see the individual and the collective at work. Each story flows from an individual’s memory, but it also becomes a part of ours as well. This collective begins to take a readable form, creating not only a public record, but a pulpit—shining light on greater issues of gun violence and control through the lens of human experience. For the voice of the memorial is not a curatorial voice nor a historian’s, but rather it resounds directly from the people who experienced history that day.

design after loss

Collective negative events often invoke within an individual a natural desire to memorialize. Whether in the stone memorials at the National Mall, the posters designed for the Tsunami in Japan, or the roadside memorials filled with teddybears and hand-made cards, their is a presence of creation and creative expression following tragedies. Bringing creatvity to the grieving grieving process can be a powerful tool, but one that should be considered respectfully. What is the role of design after loss? Beginning with a brief understanding of memory and remembering, the motives of memorial can be split into two categories–the psychology of loss and the creation of public memory.


The question lies in who decides what story gets told. As designers, we have a social responsibility to respect and represent the stories of the people served by our work. In memorials stemming from collective tragedy, design should seek to facilitate the grieving process and the public memory-making that comes from those who the tragedy affects. A single story should not be the only one we tell.

special thanks

This memorial project is made with honor. Each story honors the memory of the teller and the effects of the tragedy on the NIU community. Along side those directly effected are the numerous souls honoring the event by offering their support. This memorial would not be possible without the guidance, tactical assistance, and emotional support of many, on an off the NIU campus.

Kathleen Olsen
Eric Olsen
Carol Meranda
Michael Meranda Jr.
Lisa Yun Lee
Heather Radke
Lisa Junkin
Isis Ferguson
Amanda Signore
Matthew Gaynor
Philip Burton
Katie Leech
Jesus Duran
Daniel Sauter
Greg Jacobs