Each year since 1971, students, faculty and others have gathered at 11 p.m. on May 3 to take part in a candle light procession around the perimeter of the campus to remember those who were killed on May 4, 1970. After the procession, a vigil begins with people positioned in the spots where the four students fell that tragic day. Emeritus Professor Jerry M. Lewis established the candlelight walk and vigil with the help of students. It was also in 1971 when the university's national leadership role in promoting nonviolence and other democratic values began. That year, the Center for Peaceful Change was established to generate research, teaching and community outreach focused on nonviolent conflict resolution. The center has since been renamed the School of Peace and Conflict Studies. The May 4 Task Force student organization has coordinated commemorative programming at 12:24 p.m. on May 4 each year since 1975. In 1977, the university established May 4 as an official Day of Remembrance and as such, classes recess from noon to 2 p.m.
Alan Canfora, Dean Kahler, Tom Grace and other students wounded during the May 4 shootings, as well as Kwame Tourme (Stokely Carmichael), black activist and former chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), were among the speakers at the Noon Rally on May 4, 1980. In 1984, a university committee recommended the erecting of a permanent memorial on campus. A national design competition for the memorial was initiated in 1985, and the design of Chicago architect Bruno Ast was selected for the memorial.
The May 4 Site and Memorial, designed by Chicago architect Bruno Ast, was dedicated on May 4, 1990, as part of the 20th May 4 commemoration. Engraved in the plaza’s stone threshold are the words "Inquire. Learn. Reflect."The memorial is surrounded by 58,175 daffodil bulbs, which symbolize the number of our country’s losses in Vietnam. In 1997, Crosby Stills & Nash performed "Ohio," the song written by Neil Young about the shootings at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. They performed the song at Kent State for the first time at the 27th annual May 4 commemoration. In 1999, individual student markers were installed at the sites in the Prentice Hall parking lot where the four students were killed on May 4, 1970, and a portal website created.
In 2000, Kent State hosted the 30th commemoration, "Experiencing Democracy: Inquire, Learn, Reflect." The commemorative program included an international academic symposium, The Boundaries of Freedom of Expression and Order in a Democratic Society. The university announced its plans to host a permanent, annual symposium on democratic values to commemorate the events of May 4, 1970, and to learn from the past some important lessons for the future. The Kent State University Press published the proceeding of the symposium.
In February 2010, the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation, added the site of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State University to the list. The 45th Commemoration on May 4, 2015, at Kent State Commons included a keynote presentation by Dick Gregory, an influential comedian, civil rights activist and author. Kent State’s new President Beverly Warren, Paul Chappell and Ken Hammond, Ph.D., professor of history at New Mexico State University (and Students for a Democratic Society leader at Kent State from 1967-70) also spoke at the commemoration. In December 2016, Kent State’s May 4 site joined a much more select group as it was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. In 2018, Kent State hosted renowned journalist Dan Rather for its May 4 commemoration.