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Kent State Prepares for Its Virtual May 4 Commemoration

photo of students during the 1974 Annual Commemoration of the Kent State shootings
"1974 Commemoration: Photograph"
Kent State University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives
Students visit the site of the May 4, 1970, shootings during the annual commemoration in 1974.

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the day National Guardsmen opened fire on Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War. 

The university planned a number of events for the days leading up to and including the anniversary of the May 4th shootings. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the school has shifted to a roughly hour-long virtual commemoration

"I've seen a rough-cut of it. It's very meaningful," Kent State President Todd Diacon said. "It relies on existing videos and film. There are several interviews that are included. I was very moved by it when I watched it."

The video will be available on the May 4th website beginning at noon on that day.

In place of the real thing
Jane Fonda was scheduled to speak over the weekend. David Crosby and Joe Walsh were supposed to play a benefit concert to raise money for new scholarships.

Diacon said they never tried to replace the impact of the actual face-to-face events, which were supposed to stretch over four days. He said that just wasn't doable.

He feels the video that was produced does a good job of explaining what happened over the course of those days leading up to and on that day in 1970 to an audience who might not be familiar with all of the details. At the same time, he calls it a "moving and touching homage" to the four students who were killed and nine who were wounded.

Plan B for the scholarships
Diacon said several generous donors stepped up and gave enough to endow the four scholarships even without the money raised from the planned concert. There will be four new scholarships for students majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies.

Lost opportunities
Diacon pointed to the hard work of about two dozen people over the last three years to prepare for the 50th anniversary and the four days of events.

"We hope to replicate some of that for the 51st commemoration," he said. 

He said everyone involved agrees that the most important thing currently is "to stay safe and practice social isolation and distancing."

Todd Diacon is the 13th president of Kent State University.