Dubowski was one of five victims killed in the Valentine's Day shooting inside Cole Hall. Additional posthumous degrees were expected to be given to the families of two other victims at an evening ceremony.
Saturday's commencement ceremonies actually were designed to downplay the February 14 shootings. Northern Illinois University President John Peters only mentioned the tragedy indirectly in his remarks.
The university scheduled three graduation ceremonies Saturday to accommodate all students. Two of the ceremonies took place earlier in the day. One was scheduled for the evening.
Although the campus shooting was certainly alluded to several times, beginning with a moment of silence for those who died, most of graduates were reflecting on the past but looking toward the future.
There was an overriding sense of achievement at NIU Saturday as more than 2,500 graduates put on their caps and gowns, posed for family photos, and got ready to receive their diplomas.
"Four years. I finally got it," one graduate said.
Barely three months have passed since the February 14 shooting that claimed the lives of five students on campus. So, even amidst the celebrations, the tragedy was never far from people's minds.
"I'm very excited. This has been a long year. Everything we been through, and it just feels good to have, you know, the light at the end of the tunnel," said graduate Rashida Olayiwola.
"It was the first graduation after the tragic event, and I think everybody is feeling good about it and just wants to, you know, move on and continue to have NIU be a great school," graduate Erin Wienke said.
Once inside the convocation center, moments of silence opened the morning's commencement ceremony. Although none of the shooting's five victims were seniors, three were awarded posthumous degrees.
"The first baccalaureate degree for the college of liberal arts and sciences is appreciatively presented to Gayle Dubowski. It will be accepted by her parents, Joe and Laurel, and her brother, Ryan," NIU president John Peters said during the ceremony.
Catalina Garcia, and Julianna Gehant also were honored in the same way. Ryanne Mace and Dan Parmenter's families will receive their degrees at a later date.
President Peters spoke of having a renewed appreciation for life and all that is really important.
"All of who you cross the stage today have been part of our university community during a time marked by great triumph and great tragedy," he said.
For the graduates Saturday, it was, in every way, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
"I'm just worried about next week. You know, I don't really know so much. I just lined up job interviews," said graduate Ian Hicks.
Part of the university's effort to move beyond the tragedy and into the future involves renovating both of the lecture halls at Cole Hall, although the one where the shooting took place will never be used as a classroom again. The university would prefer to have a new building in its place, but it is waiting to see if it will receive funding from the state.
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