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The lessons of May 4 are not soon forgotten

May 6, 2012
Josh Flesher (jflesher@tribtoday.com) , Tribune Chronicle | TribToday.com

As I write this column, it is May 3, and although this won't be published until the 6th, I can't help but think of the significance of this date.

As a graduate of Kent State University the importance of the first few days of May is so great.

The events of May 1 to 4, 1970, changed the course of American history and left a stain on a generation's movement of peace and love.

Now, before I delve into this any further, I will not pretend to know exactly what happened those days because I was still 12 years from making my arrival on the planet. Also, I will try very hard not to make a case for either side of what happened.

As a student at Kent State, you are immediately made aware of the shootings. The May 4th Memorial is part of every tour that winds its way through campus, and the markers of where the bodies of the four students fell are almost impossible to miss.

After a few weeks on campus, those things are quickly forgotten, but for those of us who took a few minutes to stop and reflect on what you were looking at, those markers and that memorial become very powerful.

As a student, it was easy to take your days for granted, feeling safe and secure in the small university community, but to think of what those spring days of 1970 were like for the students was humbling.

It was not uncommon to see small demonstrations on campus for one cause or another. Sit-ins, protests, rallies, they were commonplace, especially as the weather got warmer.

What was so different between 2004 and 1970 was the level of significance of what was being fought. I saw demonstrations calling for the removal of chicken from student cafeterias and rallies for rights of gay and lesbian students.

I don't discredit or diminish these points of view or believe they should not have been taken seriously, but on those same grounds 30 years earlier, students were voicing their displeasure with the involvement of the United States in Vietnam and the invasion of Cambodia.

This was significant in a way that people my age will never understand because it was during the era of the draft. At no point in my life have I been concerned that I was going to get a call from the government saying that I was to report to boot camp immediately.

But with the involvement of Cambodia and the growing number of men needed for military service, it had to be terrifying for 18, 19 and 20 year olds to think that they may be the next called to service.

That may be the one thing that hangs over the events of May 4: the fear.

The fear that gripped the students and the fear that spread throughout the community as buildings were burned and violent outbursts were popping up in the streets.

The fear that was in the students who were not a part of the demonstrations but were trying to go to class as if it was any other day.

The fear that was in the National Guardsmen as they were placed in a situation that they were not ready to control.

If you visit Kent State University these days, you see a campus that is booming in activity and growth. From the time when I started there, I can hardly recognize what has happened there.

The landscape of the campus is much different than it was 42 years ago, but those four markers and that memorial remain as a reminder to everyone who steps on campus of what happened that day.

For many people, they remember those events because they were present when they happened, but for most of us, we only know what we've seen on newsreels and in newspapers. But, it is important that we always remember these historical events no matter how hard they are to understand in order to make sure that something like that never happens again.

Kent State will always be a home to me, and for others who have called it home, we should take a moment to reflect on how those four days in 1970 changed everything.

 
 
 

 

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