So close, yet so far away

Mike Crissman

Two score years ago, an unthinkable event occurred on our campus — an event that shocked the world then and continues to shock to this day.

Of course, I’m referring to the May 4 massacre, in which four Kent State students were killed and nine others wounded by the Ohio National Guard 40 years ago. Of the four killed, only two were involved in the protest (about the American invasion of Cambodia, in the midst of the Vietnam War). The other two had just been walking from one class to the next when they were shot from afar.

I don’t want to give a detailed history lesson, as the events of May 4, 1970, are widely known. However, it’s important to realize the true magnitude of the shootings and the significance maintained to this day.

The shootings at our university led to the only nationwide student strike in U.S. history. More than four million students protested in both violent and non-violent demonstrations. More than 450 campuses were shut down across the country. Thirteen seconds of gunfire put Kent, Ohio, on the map forever. Immediately following the incident, Kent State became a household name.

Forty years later, our school is still recognized around the world — not for scholastic achievement or success in sports, but for the shootings. It is a legacy our university will never shake — at least not in our lifetimes.

It is difficult for today’s youth to fully comprehend the context and culture of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. It was a time of social progressivism, moon walks, rock ‘n’ roll, military drafts, hippies and bell-bottom pants.

As students of Kent State, we have the distinct opportunity of living and learning on one of the most historic campuses in the world. It gives us a chance to get a small, yet significant, taste of a distant, foreign era. Yet few students take the opportunity to take it all in.

Personally, I get the chance to walk in the footsteps of history almost daily. As a resident of Olson Hall, I frequent Prentice Café for many of my nutritional needs. The short walk there takes me over Blanket Hill, where the soldiers aimed and fired, and through the parking lot, where the students were shot and killed.

In my first week or so at Kent State last fall, I recall a novice freshman who unknowingly walked through and over one of the blocked off parking spots in the Prentice parking lot on the way to get a wrap. Little did I know I was casually strolling over one of four memorials that mark the exact location where each student was slain. Needless to say, after feeling guilty and slightly disrespectful, I never made the same mistake again.

The shootings may have happened 40 years ago. Nevertheless, it remains a historical occurrence that still holds a lot of weight today. No Kent State student should take our important place in history lightly.

Before you head home for the summer after finals next week, make an effort to visit the May 4 site and reflect on the significant events that still shock any who think about it.

It is utterly impossible for current college students to imagine something similar to the May 4 shootings happening today. For that reason, we look back with awe and reverence.

Mike Crissman is a freshman journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].