Opinion: The diminishing prominence of May 4

Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

As a freshman two years ago, I attended the annual May 4 commemoration for the first time. It also happened to be the 40th anniversary of the tragic shootings that occurred on this campus in 1970.

The commemoration was a wonderful experience. Hordes of students used the two-hour break from classes to gather at the commons along with the locals, alumni and history buffs who made the trip to Kent.

I don’t think very many students will be there this year. May 4 is not only during finals week but on a Friday, at which time many of us will have completed their exams and gone home.

To my knowledge, May 4 — and, as a result, the commemoration — has never fallen so late in the semester. It’s an unintentional consequence of the university’s decision to shorten winter break, start the spring semester earlier and add more weeks to the summer schedule. For comparison, May 4, 2009 was during the 14th week of spring classes.

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault Kent State for having wanted to add extra classes, since Kent State is a school, first and foremost. But this will unfortunately cause more detachment between the student body and the one event that made this university the focus of our nation.

Thankfully, May 4 won’t always be this incredibly late in the semester; in 2013, it will be the Saturday before exam week. But we will have to get used to a smaller student presence every few years, which is a shame for those members of the Kent State family who do a remarkable job maintaining the legacy of May 4.

Last semester, I had the privilege of taking Jerry Lewis’s sociology course. Lewis has taught at Kent State since 1966 and was a witness to the shootings. He combined that event with his sociology expertise to co-write a book, “Kent State and May 4th: A Social Science Perspective.”

Lewis integrated May 4 into much of the class syllabus, and our term paper had to relate to something from those four days of anti-war protests. The class doubled as a fascinating history lesson and actually led me to research the library archives with excitement and fascination.

Meanwhile, the May 4 Task Force has spent years pressuring the university to improve awareness and remembrance of the tragedy. Its members deserve much of the credit for the various memorials and under-construction Visitors Center that give the events a rightful permanent presence on campus.

Even with all this effort, it seems inevitable that attendance at the May 4 commemoration will continue to decrease. Students who are overwhelmed with studying or anxious to begin summer break won’t even consider going. Many of the visitors are people who were alive during the Vietnam War, but they decrease in number with every passing year.

As the school year closes and the anniversary nears, I can’t stop thinking about this. If those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat, perhaps the work of Kent State’s May 4 experts is more important now than ever before.