Those gathered at the commemoration place flowers beneath the Kent State Jackson State memorial at Plattsburgh State.
PLATTSBURGH — The country has come a long way since the massacres at Kent State and Jackson State, said Plattsburgh State Student Association President Charles Sanchez, but freedom of expression still has a cost, and maintaining your rights — including your ability to challenge authority — requires ongoing effort.
Sanchez spoke during the university’s 42nd commemorative ceremony marking the killings at Kent State and Jackson State.
“During a time of contention and a tumultuous and ongoing war, students gathered to express their discontent and disapproval — an expression of opinion,” Sanchez said, speaking near a memorial on the Kehoe building’s lawn.
“These rights to express freely their opinions, which are guaranteed by our country’s constitution, were not upheld.”
The Kent State shootings occurred when unarmed college students were fired upon by the Ohio National Guard in 1970.
Nearly 30 Guardsmen fired more than 60 rounds in less than 15 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom was paralyzed. Many of the students had gathered to protest the Vietnam War.
The tragedy sparked protests at hundreds of universities, colleges and high schools throughout the United States.
A resulting student strike grew to include approximately four million young people.
10 days after the Kent State massacre, two black students were killed and 12 were wounded by police at Jackson State under similar circumstances.
A study released shortly after the Kent State shootings found that the protestors represented no danger that called for lethal force.
Rodney Stone had worked as a peace officer at Plattsburgh State for two years when tragedy struck Kent State.
He was working the night shift when a Plattsburgh State member of Students for a Democratic Society threw a chair into a transformer, knocking out power to the campus.
Students burned an American flag and took over the Kehoe Administrative building, which they maintained control of for more than a week. They also boycotted classes and held demonstrations and a concert.
“I was never in favor of Vietnam,” Stone said. “I had been in the Navy and went through the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Stone retired from Plattsburgh State after 31 years. This was his first time back for the ceremony.
Plattsburgh State Provost Dr. James “Jake” Liszka cautioned that students must keep in mind their role as the nation’s conscience and remain engaged.
Those in power, he said, must not abuse that power but use it for the common good.
College challenges students to question the world around them, Sanchez said, and humanity and compassion are lost when the expectation is blind obedience.
“Always remember that although two people may have a difference of opinion, it is only our attitudes and dispositions which get in the way of being able to talk to them out,” he said.