Kent State Commemorates May 4, 1970

Against the backdrop of a new generation of student activism, the Kent State community gathered to reflect and remember the student protesters killed and wounded on May 4, 1970

Kent State University President Todd Diacon stood before a new generation of student activists on Saturday and emphasized that honoring Kent State’s core values is the best way to pay homage to the students killed and wounded on May 4, 1970.

“Comparing today’s situation with Kent State makes total sense,” the president said, acknowledging the current wave of student protests across U.S. college campuses.  

President Todd Diacon speaks at the May 4, 54th Commemoration on May 4, 2024.
Kent State President Todd Diacon speaks during the May 4 Commemoration.

“But there is a lesson from Kent State that is less mentioned but that is equally important,” he said. “I’m talking about the importance of maintaining a civic dialogue and the very real dangers of polarization, demonization of one’s opponents and even the dehumanization of one’s opponents.”

Diacon spoke on Saturday, at Kent State’s 54th Commemoration of the May 4 shootings, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on Kent State students protesting the expansion of the War in Vietnam, killing four students, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder, and wounding nine others – Alan Canfora, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Dean Kahler, Joseph Lewis, Donald Mackenzie, James Russell, Robert Stamps and Douglas Wrentmore.

The commemoration included remarks from students and administrators, musical selections and the ringing of the Victory Bell by Kahler, to mark the time the shootings took place and remember those killed and wounded.

Dean Kahler, shot and paralyzed on May 4, 1970, rings the Victory Bell at the 54th Commemoration of the shootings.
Dean Kahler, in a wheelchair since being shot on May 4, 1970, rings the Victory Bell at the 54th Commemoration of May 4, 1970.

The violence at Kent State in 1970, Diacon said, reflected the tensions and anger of society in general at the time.

Where does Kent State go from here in the current environment, Diacon queried, offering the answer: “Flashes take care of Flashes, regardless of what is happening around us.”

“We have the option to treat everyone with kindness and respect. Because of our history, because of our sacrifices and because of our collective memory, we can continue to fashion our own approach to making sense of the tensions, the pain, the suffering, and yes, hope, in the world today,” he said.

Doing that, Diacon said, calls for a “full-throated embrace of free speech, combined with the highest levels of empathy.”

He called upon the Kent State community to treat those we disagree with not as enemies, “but as fellow members of our strong, our empathetic, our patient and our beautiful Golden Flashes community.”

Hundreds of people filled the Commons for the commemoration ceremony.

“I honor the presence of our protesters, and I appreciate the attitude you have brought today, just as I would honor the presence of those who might disagree with you and appreciate the attitude that they bring today,” he said.

“Our core value of kindness and respect teaches us that we are one community led by dialogue, one community led by discussion, and one community led by learning,” Diacon said, “Our shared history, means we embrace free speech, and we abhor violence.”

Melody Tankersley, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president, in welcoming the hundreds of visitors who attended the commemoration, said:  “Through looking back, we also look ahead, with awareness of the many ways in which the legacy of May 4 is evident at our university today and in the years to come.”

The theme for the May 4 commemoration, “The Power of Our Voices,” she said, “Reminds us that we can use our voices to create positive change.”

Roseann 'Chic' Canfora speaks at the May 4, 1970 Commemoration.
Roseann 'Chic' Canfora speaks at the Commemoration.

Tankersley also acknowledged those present who were injured on May 4: Grace, Mackenzie, Cleary, Lewis and Kahler, as well as Miller’s brother, Russ Miller, and Roseann “Chic” Canfora, the sister of Alan Canfora, who died in 2020.

A commemorative marker is on the spot where wounded student Alan Canfora was standing when shot on May 4, 1970.

Chic Canfora, who serves as chair of the May 4 Commemoration Committee, spoke saying, “At Kent State, we will never forget what happened here and together we are part of a 54-year history of gathering on this hill to make meaning of May 4 for a new generation of students.”  

“Our own student speakers today are leaders in that new generation of changemakers who choose peace over war and who are using the power of their voices to make our nation and the global world they are entering a more fair, just and safe place for all,” Canfora said.

Sophia Swengel, president of the student-led May 4 Task Force, also spoke of the current wave of student activism across the country now, with many students protesting the war in Gaza.

Sophia Swengel, president of the May 4 Task Force, speaks at the May 4 commemoration.
Sophia Swengel, president of the May 4 Task Force, speaks at the Commemoration.

“Once again, students in America are taking a stand against bloodshed abroad,” she said, noting how activism can be a tricky and scary business, but adding that Kent State student activists have always used the values of community and connection to embolden themselves and amplify their voices.

"This humanity, this aching and undeniable humanity, is what we must hold closest as we remember Jeff and Allison and Sandy and Bill,” Swengel said.

She encouraged students to speak their minds, “for it is the most American thing we can do.”

Juliana Buonaiuto, president of Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government, spoke of how the spirit of student activism is alive and thriving in Kent State students. “This fire is woven into us and it burns just as bright as it did 54 years ago. At Kent State, activism is not but a memory, it is a way of life.”

Juliana Buonaiuto, president of Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government, speaks at May 4 Commemoration.

“The events of May 4 are more relevant than ever,” she said. “We are living in a time when student voices should be uplifted and listened to, not met with violence.”

Following the commemoration’s conclusion, a large group of student protesters held a rally at the Victory Bell, promoting a pro-Palestinian message and calling for an end to the war and violence in Gaza. 

Students held a pro-Palestinian rally following the May 4 Commemoration on May 4, 2024.
Pro-Palestinian students protest the War in Gaza at the May 4, 1970 Commemoration.

Saturday concluded several days of programming and events for the 54th Commemoration of the May 4, 1970 shootings. On Friday, May 3, numerous students took place in a candlelight march and overnight vigil at the spots where the four students were killed. 

Friday night's candlelight vigil to honor the students killed and wounded on May 4, 1970.
The May 3 Candlelight Vigil is part of the May 4, 1970 Commemoration. 

Watch the 54th May 4 Commemoration.


POSTED: Saturday, May 4, 2024 04:21 PM
Updated: Saturday, May 4, 2024 05:00 PM
Lisa Abraham