NIU's president says the mood of commencement will be both somber and celebratory. A moment of silence is planned for the start of the ceremony to honor the five people killed in the shooting. Three of the victims will receive posthumous degrees.
On Friday, the seniors set to graduate as the class of 2008 filed into NIU's Convocation Center to pick up their caps and gowns.
"We're happy to be done. It's gonna be a great event," said graduating senior Nick Gerova.
About 2,500 students will take part in commencement ceremonies over the weekend. For many, the excitement of earning their degrees is tempered by memories of the Valentine's Day tragedy where five students were killed in a shooting at Cole Hall.
"It's been a rough year, but we're all getting over it, and it's gonna be a great time, be exciting," said Carly Kremkau, a graduating senior,.
None of the victims were seniors, but three of them-- Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia and Julianna Gehant-- will each receive posthumous degrees. The other victims-- Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter -- will receive the honor at a later date.
The university's president says it is important to honor the fallen classmates while celebrating the accomplishments of the graduates.
"I will, in my remarks, indicate to this graduating class that they are special because they've been tested and they know now what is important," NIU president John Peters said.
As the school year draws to a close at NIU, the campus looks much like it did when the year began. Many memorials to the slain students have been brought inside, although tributes to the students still sit outside Cole Hall.
Also, there are messages across the campus encouraging NIU to 'keep moving forward,' a line borrowed from the school's fight song, which will be played during graduation Saturday.
"I think they know in their heart of hearts that the best way to honor their fallen five students is to move forward now," said Peters.There are two lecture rooms in NIU's Cole Hall. Both will be renovated, but the room where the shooting took place will no longer function as a classroom.
The university wants to build a new hall, which would cost more than $7 million. The school just started the process of asking the state to fund the building.