53rd May 4 commemoration highlights modern-day student activism


Emma Van Winkle

Presidential Advisory and Commemoration chair Roseann “Chic” Canfora giving her remarks about May 4th and the activism and advocacy still moving the Kent State student body today, at the May 4th Annual Commemoration on May 4, 2023.

Addison Foreman, Reporter

Survivors, students and faculty gathered Thursday to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of May 4, 1970, the day the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four and injuring nine others.

The commemoration honors slain students Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Several survivors of May 4 were in attendance Thursday, including Tom Grace, Donald Scott Mackenzie and Chic Canfora.

This year’s commemoration featured two student members of the May 4 task force instead of a keynote speaker.

Avery Hall, president of the May 4 task force and senior communication studies major, spoke about the legacy of student activism at Kent State.

Viewers watch the May 4th recognition on May 4, 2023.

“You all are the future of May 4, and it is meaningful and important that you are here today. This gathering of every person on this field is evidence of a living legacy at Kent State University, one that has been preserved for decades and will live on for decades to come,” Hall said. 

Hall connected the events of May 4 to the numerous school shootings today. She encouraged students to use their voices to make a change.

“Just as students did then, students now can envision a better future and use their voices to fight for it,” she said. “We owe it to those who have fought for the fourth for 53 years, and we owe it to those who lost their lives in this fight for peace and justice.”

Highlighting student speakers this year was important for Kent State professor and May 4 survivor Chic Canfora.

“It was a reminder to everybody here that it’s time, our students have this. May 4 is in good hands,” Canfora said.

Sophia Swengel, first-year emerging media and technology major, was the recipient of the Alan Canfora Activism Scholarship in 2022 and is a current member of the May 4 task force. Alan Canfora was one of the Students for a Democratic Society leaders on May 4, 1970 and advocated for the annual commemoration before Kent administration took it over. He died Dec. 2020. 

“I get to follow in the footsteps of someone who left a very positive impact in bringing this community together to bring triumph over this horrific event that happened and being able to keep it alive,” Swengel said.

May 4 survivor Donald Scott Mackenzie rings the victory bell 15 times to honor the students killed and injured at Kent and Jackson State. (Matthew Brown)

May 4 survivor Donald Scott Mackenzie rang the bell on Blanket Hill to kick off the commemoration. He rang the bell 15 times, for the students killed and injured at Kent State and the two students killed at Jackson State. 

Mackenzie was one of the students who was shot on May 4, and was the farthest person away from the shooters who was injured.

“I get all kinds of chills and all kinds of different emotions. It’s very bittersweet coming back. The sweet part of seeing friends, good friends, and good people working for change. But it’s bitter in remembering all of it,” Mackenzie said.

He said that he expected the guardsmen to be firing blanks, so his first words after being hit with a bullet were, “Holy shit I got shot.”

Mackenzie believes student activism is important in the current day.

“We need it, no doubt about it, and the right kind of activism is really appreciated because someone is watching or taking note of what’s going on,” he said. “It’s vital, critical, for our country and the world.”

During the commemoration, a group of student activists held a silent protest against Senate Bill 83. If passed, SB 83 would ban university diversity efforts and university faculty from striking.

“I felt it was really important to acknowledge their presence here and also to honor them for their own courage and being out here,” Canfora said. “Today is a celebration of student activism. It’s alive and well on the campus, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Silent protestors sat at the back of the 53rd Annual Commemoration for May 4th to pay respect but also take a stand on May 4, 2023. (Emma Van Winkle)

Swengel said the commemoration keeps the spirit of May 4 alive. 

“It’s really important because it shows that these people aren’t just going to forget about it and just be buried in the sands of time,” she said. “They’re going to keep telling people that, ‘Hey, this is relevant, and we’re still here, and we’re still going to use our voices.’”

Kent State University President Todd Diacon commented on the effectiveness of this year’s commemoration.

“It’s just such a pleasure to see everyone and to see the wounded students,” he said. “It’s just what makes Kent State Kent State.”

Addison Foreman is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].


General Assignment Editor Grace Springer contributed to this report.