Thursday afternoon, a solemn ceremony was held on campus to mark the anniversary and remember the victims.
Students gathered around the scene of the shooting an hour ahead of the program, standing back as victims' family members spent time at the memorials.
"What happened in Cole Hall five years ago forever changed Northern," said NIU President John Peters.
Five slabs of stone now commemorate the lives taken away five Valentine's Days ago.
"It's important that we remember their lives, and I salute the university and the community here for this wonderful, and I think solemn, memorial," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
Gary Parmenter lost his 23-year-old son Daniel that day, a finance major who shielded his girlfriend from the bullets. Up close, the pain clearly remains. But he reaches out to victims of other school shootings as a way to heal his hurt, and heexpresses gratitude to NIU.
"We also want to remember all the children and students and educational staff that have lost their lives in other school shootings," Parmenter said. "To the parents, our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the parents who have lost their children, who have lost precious life, part of their future, and that there are grief support groups available to help you through healing, because you need not walk alone."
Scholarships were founded in the names of the dead, and while five years has passed, leaving few undergraduates who experienced the tragedy, their collegiate experience is shaped by it.
"I feel like there's a lot of evil in the world, and I think that it's our responsibility to balance it, to do good for others," said scholarship winner Caitlin Cavannaugh.