This year 74 applicants submitted essays for a chance at one of Northern Illinois University's most prestigious scholarships. The Forward, Together Forward Scholarship went to five students demonstrating strong work ethic, intellectual curiosity, a high regard for others, and traits like motivation, inspiration and integrity.
Close to 1,800 donors pitched in for the scholarship endowment fund in honor of five NIU students who died in the Feb. 14, 2008, school shooting.
In their applications, students explained what it means to be an NIU Huskie, how tragedy shapes character, what their dreams are for the future and how they would honor the memory of the fallen students.
Mayra Diaz, Kelsey Borg, Justin Larsen, Reneka Turner and Jasmine Land were the third group of students selected for the $4,000 prize.
Though Diaz has won other scholarships before, she said the honor that came with this scholarship is different from anything else. After Monday's ceremony, the legacy of the fallen students was more real to her than ever.
"You could really feel how the administration and the families still keep their memories alive through the scholarship and through the changes they've made on campus," Diaz said.
• Mayra Diaz, of Barrington, is a sophomore double majoring in political science and Spanish language and literatures. She supports the federal DREAM Act as a member of the Dream Action group, works as a receptionist at the Neptune Hall front desk and volunteers with other Latina students as a member of Mujer a Mujer. Diaz hopes to become an important political figure representing the Latino community on a national level, including in the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform.
• Kelsey Borg, of Maple Park, is a junior speech language pathology major. She is an active curriculum committee member and student advisory council member for the College of Health and Human Sciences, she is a member of the Newman Catholic Student Center's Northern Illinois Koinonia Retreat team and is a peer instructor for University 101 courses. As the junior high youth minister at Newman, Borg also teaches eighth-grade religious courses on Sunday mornings.
• Justin Larsen, of Sycamore, is a junior planning to earn a master's degree in student affairs. He is an elected senator to the NIU Student Association, interns with NIU Career Services, serves as vice president and co-founder of the Delta Chi fraternity, works as a University 101 peer instructor, and sits on a working group for President John Peters' Vision 2020 Initiative as a student representative.
• Reneka Turner, of Sycamore, is a senior nursing major. She serves as "Breakthrough to Nursing" director for the National Student Nurses Association, board member for Safe in my Brother's Arms/Safe in my Sister's Arms, volunteer with Project PRIME and vice president of Parents for Cornerstone at Cornerstone Christian Academy, where she also volunteers.
• Jasmine Land, of O'Fallon, is a junior marketing major. She coordinates fall and spring open houses and gives orientation tours for prospective and newly enrolled students, serves as a peer instructor in University 101 courses, works as a Dialogue on Diversity facilitator on campus, volunteers as a tutor and helps with marketing efforts as a member of the Housing and Dining staff.