Sunday, September 7, 2008

Kent State, May 4, 1970

This was originally a post to the KSU mailing list in response to a report on the Graduate Student Senate which included a mention of a memorial for the students killed and wounded by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State on May 4, 1970. Having composed the piece, I thought it could go here too.

Wow, the reference to May 4, 1970 took me back. Currently I am a graduate student of KSU at the Columbus extension, working towards a MLIS degree and hoping to become a librarian. But on that day, I had recently dropped out of Miami University as a Systems Analysis major for financial reasons. At MU I had been a leftist radical, burning my draft card and the whole nine yards. Seeing those news reports, especially the picture, now everything was different. The Selective Service System in its wisdom had given me a I-Y rating, eligible in case of war or national emergency (like Vietnam wasn’t?) so I was not in personal danger of being shipped off to Nam to get my a** shot up. But now I could have that privilege right here at home. What had been an abstract, academic political opinion instantly turned into real life. Even Miami U., stolid, upper-class, Republican Miami, where we radicals had felt like a tiny minority, was shut down by “student unrest.” Even the frat boys felt the fear of war: this could be me, not just the lower orders. I went back as soon as I could, and found my friends mostly at Hueston Woods State Park, relaxing and hoping that Miami was not next on the list. Of course hippies had our own strains of elitism and arrogance, sneering that revolution was this year’s fraternity party. But something fundamental had changed. We had enjoyed parading our fear of the government, but now it wasn’t a pose anymore. Strange days, they were. May 4th changed the world for us Baby Boomers, like nothing since JFK was killed, like nothing until 9/11. Ask your parents, how did they react to the news?
And now here I am 38 years later, a student of that same University. As the poet said, what a long strange trip it’s been. I am grateful to God for finally getting me to a place where, in many ways, I have always wanted to go. I may get the Master’s degree I always wanted, and get into a profession that is a vocation, not just a job, just a source of income. How interesting that it will come from a school with such a huge influence on my generation.

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