HUNTINGTON — If not for the events of Nov. 14, 1970, what happened Friday would have taken place in 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Marshall University awarded 39 posthumous degrees Friday to the students who died in the Nov. 14 plane crash 50 years ago.
Some were on the cusp of walking across the stage and obtaining their diploma. They were football players at the time, but they would have gone on to be teachers, accountants, doctors and more.
The degrees were presented in a ceremony at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center to the 36 football players, an assistant trainer, a student assistant statistician and the sports editor of The Parthenon, Marshall’s student newspaper. The ceremony was by invitation only due to the pandemic.
“Perhaps it is long overdue, but we believe it is now timely and proper to grant the baccalaureate degrees to the 39 that lost their lives that November,” said university President Jerome Gilbert.
Gilbert called the ceremony bittersweet.
A photo of the student was displayed, along with his hometown, degree and anticipated graduation date. It was a stark reminder of the pain felt in towns far from Huntington — from Alabama to Texas — and of the dreams extinguished far before they could be realized.
But as student body president Anna Williams said, all the events this weekend are to ensure the legacy of those students taken too soon lives on.
“For 50 years now, this community and university have paused, not to remember the worst tragedy in United States sports history, but to remember family, friends, peers. We remember laughs, smiles and memories,” Williams said. “We even see reflections of our own lives in the lives of the 75 — our love of family and our shared experiences as Marshall students. No matter how much time passes, a piece of each person in this community and campus become tied to not just this tragedy, but a collective feeling of strength.”
The annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14.
Due to the pandemic, it is also by invitation only and will be livestreamed at www.marshall.edu/it/livestream/.