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Attendees of the vigil gather around the Victory Bell at the trough of Blanket Hill with their candles before they begin the walk around campus. The crowd was met with an announcement from May 4 survivor and former professor Jerry Lewis, which set the tone for the evening.

"I ask that you remain in silence, out of respect for our fallen brother and sisters at Kent State and Jackson State. Peace," Lewis said. 

A light fog hung over Taylor Field as spectators began to gather at the Victory Bell Wednesday night. One by one, each person lit a candle and calmly passed it around, making sure everyone had one to hold for the 49th annual May 4 Candlelight Vigil and Walk.

In the Prentice Hall parking lot, the lights on the makers dedicated to the victims who died on May 4, 1970, had gone dark, awaiting the walkers to return with their candles. Mourners — some with tears in their eyes, others with blank expressions — visited each marker, remembering the students who lost their lives.

More than 2,000 demonstrators came to Taylor Field to protest the Vietnam War that day. After the National Guard ordered the crowds to disperse, they then fired into the protesters.

Thirteen seconds. Sixty-seven shots. Four students killed, and nine others wounded.

Forty-nine years later, different generations stood together, holding their candles high with hands protecting the flames from the soft breeze and misting rain. If one candle went out, another person lent theirs to make it burn bright again. Small conversations ensued among the crowd, which included  Kent State administrators President Beverly Warren and Todd Diacon, the executive vice president and provost, who will soon take her place.

Some lent their tissues to neighbors. Some brought their own candles, protected in mason jars with lighters in tow just in case.

Some groups made conversation, remembering Kent State nearly 50 years ago and how much the campus and its climate has changed. A group of freshmen discussed what it had learned about May 4 in one of its classes this year, and how students remember the tragedy’s details from high school history books.

Around 11 p.m., nearly 300 community members, students and staff shuffled silently together, close to one another, commencing the walk. As the vigil coiled around campus, students walking by joined in and cars stopped to watch. Some spectators asked what was going on, and the walkers silently looked at them, wishing they already knew.

It was silent the entire time.

Close to midnight, the crowd gathered at the tall tree in the parking lot, surrounded by the markers. Each person put their candles in a circle around the tree, followed by a short prayer. Some put their candles next to the markers, illuminating each name forever etched in stone.

Jeffrey Miller. Allison Krause. Sandra Scheuer. William Schroeder.

Lydia Taylor is the digital content editor. Contact her at ltaylo49@kent.edu.

Photos by: Jarett Theberge

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Barbara Child, a former professor at Kent State, was the first to stand vigil at Jeffrey Miller's spot in the Prentice Hall parking lot on Friday night and will speak on Miller's behalf during the commemorations on Saturday, May 4.

Miller's mother, Elaine Holstein, passed away on May 28, 2018, and was the last of the surviving parents of the victims. Child said it's an honor they asked her to speak on his behalf.

"I'm so grateful for the people that see to it that this keeps happening," Child said. As for today's students who came to the vigil, Child said it's important for them to know about dissent.

"There are lots of things that are worthy of dissent today, and so people have to constantly be aware of what can happen and how important it is to not let those rights just evaporate."

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The vigil and walk lasted a half-hour as the route took the participants to front campus and down East Main Street before turning down Midway Drive, heading toward Taylor Hall. 

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The vigil makes its final turn into the Prentice Hall parking lot as fog surrounds the light coming from the top floor of Taylor Hall. Volunteers took half-hour shifts standing vigil in the spots for Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder, Allison Krause and Sandy Scheuer from midnight until 12:24 p.m. on May 4, which is the exact time National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded nine others. 

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From the KentWired staff: Kent State will always be remembered for the tragedy that occurred 49 years ago. Despite the abundance of nationally renowned academic programs, the death of four students will always hang like a cloud over the university. But for those who attended the vigil, the tragedy was not in vain. Rather, it gave those in the Kent State community a sense of identity and reason to congregate as they remembered the loss of life and tried to learn and grow in the aftermath. 

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