Returning to Cole Hall


NIU student Alyssa Witherby, junior communications major, takes notes prior to her Communications 356 class in Cole Hall.

By Jerry Burnes

Cole Hall has always made me a bit anxious.

The first time I felt that way I was stepping into Cole Hall in August 2005, my freshman year, for my very first college class, MATH 110.

I was 18, nervous and still had no clue how I fit into the NIU community.

The last time I was at that building was as a campus reporter at the Northern Star on Feb. 14, 2008 – a day that is seared into my memory. It’s also the day that made Tuesday’s trip to Cole Hall equally as nerve-racking, if not more, than my first trip there over six years ago.

As I was sitting on my couch watching Mythbusters Monday night, my thoughts were leaning more toward the next day than the “Chicken Gun” Adam and Jamie were building.

I was more anxious, more nervous for this assignment than any football game I’ve shot. More so than photographing President Barack Obama a few years ago.

All my thoughts centered around what it would be like going in there again. Would it be weird? Would it send me right back to 2008? I also wondered a lot about how many students taking those classes realize the historic nature of this day to NIU.

As I walked into Cole Hall yesterday, this time at age 24, there was almost a calming feeling of closure. Nothing came rushing back and the weird feeling soon vanished.

The building is so different from what I remember. It took a few minutes to actually take things in before I could start producing a photograph worth anything.

The floor was no longer dingy concrete, the halls were passable by more than two people at a time and the classrooms no longer had the lighting of cave.

Many passing students expressed their thoughts and impressions of the new look. Many more said it was their first time in the building. A few expressed the same anxiety I felt Monday night.

Apparently they knew the significance of the day just as much as I did.

Overall, Cole Hall was inviting, which is exactly what these incoming students needed. NIU can never erase the tragedy that happened in that building nearly four years ago, but it can make new beginnings in it.

As I sat down with Paul Palian, NIU Director of Media and Public Relations, he imagined murals on the blank, white walls of the buildings, similar to the Yordon Center.

It was a refreshing thought. Just as walking into Cole Hall this time was much more relaxing than the first time.