Opinion: Tradition can grow from tragedy

Skye McEowen

“Don’t get shot,” someone said to me when my 17-year-old self told them I would be attending Kent State in fall 2013. I laughed awkwardly, not exactly knowing how to respond to something that—though it happened years ago—was still a sensitive subject.

The thing is, words along those lines have probably been said at least once to almost every current, former and future Kent State student since 1970. Though the day rattled the nation, it’s something we still think about and reflect on decades later. My question for a while had been: Why is that?

May 4 offers a great amount of historical significance. We examine it primarily as civil discourse and opposition in the face of war. More importantly, we saw just how the government itself reacted to opposition in an already polarized nation.

The ‘70s served as the continuation of the growing generation gap, as activism spread and the youth gained a voice. Not only did many oppose the war in Vietnam, but many opposed the fact that people were drafted to fight before they could vote, which ended in two ways: In 1971, the 26th Amendment passed, lowering the voting age to 18—the same age people are drafted. The draft itself was resolved in 1973, changing the United States military to an all-volunteer force.

I often think about those first years following 1970; how much more somber the commemorations may have been, eventually seeing some changes many protestors fought for. As the years passed, the commemorations continued to grow and something else interesting happens.

For one day, nearly 30,000 people think about the same thing: May 4. Whether it’s with great understanding or a passing realization that class is cancelled, the students and alumni of Kent State are bound together in solidarity from a significant moment in United States history many years ago.

Even in the immediate aftermath, learning about the protests from other universities in light of Kent State was astounding. We see how, even then, tragedy can pull people together across miles and years.

In fact, the events from May 4 don’t just stop at opposing a war and draft; they show the historical significance of the freedom of peaceful protest. Though Kent State’s ended in tragedy, protests still pay an important part in bringing the issues of today to light. For example, Black Lives Matter being brought into the Kent State fold shows how we are all the same in fighting for what is right.

History provides us a lesson to learn from the world, whether we’ve seen it firsthand or heard stories. Kent State grows more united in the aftermath of tragedy and remembrance—but more importantly—in the spirit of effecting change.

Skye McEowen is the opinion editor for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].