Pulitzer prize winner gives May 4 keynote speech


Matthew Brown

Presidential historian Jon Meacham presents his keynote speech on May 4, 2022.

Emma MacNiven, Reporter

An attentive audience burst with laughter at “An Evening with Jon Meacham” Thursday night. Meacham, the keynote speaker for the Presidential Speaker Series, gave his insight on today’s political climate compared to the events that took place on May 4, 1970.

Jon Meacham’s speech draws a sizeable crowd to the ballroom on May 4, 2022. (Matthew Brown)


“If you all came out to see me, you watch too much news,” Meacham said, in his Tennessean accent.


The Kent State Speaker series brings in world-renowned experts to inspire thought throughout this event. Meacham, known for his New York Times bestseller “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” started his career path as a journalist for Newsweek, and has since been honored as a Pulitzer Prize winner and presidential historian.


President Todd Diacon opened the night with his own remarks. Diacon spoke about his feelings of the word “venom,” discussing the definition of “spiteful malicious feeling or state of mind.” The word venom captures the tumultuous times, but as a nation, we can get through it, he said.


“The lessons of May 4, 1970 are once again all too relevant and all too important. Our speaker tonight, Mr. Jon Meacham understands these moments,” Diacon said. “With a sharp eye, with an eloquent style, he reminds us that as a nation we have traversed such royal waters in the past, and that we can confront them again successfully.”

Kent State President Todd Diacon introduces Jon Meacham to the audience before his keynote speech. (Matthew Brown)


The audience consisted of students, professors and alumni. Roughly 10 of those in attendance were present on campus during the events of May 4, 1970. In his speech, Meacham’s top two points were of being one, curious and two, compassionate in today’s political climate. He discussed his close friendship with Congressman John Lewis and how his admiration for Lewis as the most compassionate person he knows.


“If everybody ‘loved their neighbor,’ Moses and Jesus wouldn’t have brought that up,” Meacham said.


He said he believes that Kent State shouldn’t forget its history, and the commemoration of May 4 should continue forever.


“How can you let go of one of the bloodiest and biggest failures in American democracy?” Meacham said.


As to how the nation remembers May 4, 1970, Meacham said it lies solely in the iconic image that was captured that day.


“[People think of] the picture, to be blunt about it, it is an image of totalitarian violence unfolding here” he said. “It is an emblem of what happens when divisions are not seen as a part of our being and instead are seen as occasions for assertions of power.”

Emma MacNiven is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].