Inspirational talks are not cheap

Big names demand big bucks for community college speaker series

EX-NBA SUPERSTAR KAREEM Abdul-Jabbar gave a speech at Bunker Hill Community College last October — not on how to shoot his patented skyhook, but on the weighty subject of “Islam: Misrepresented, Misunderstood, and Maligned in the United States.”

The speech was part of a series that is designed to serve as inspiration for Bunker Hill students. But the inspiration didn’t come cheap. The school paid Abdul-Jabbar a speaker’s fee of $55,000, which is about three times what the college’s 12,296 students pay to attend Bunker Hill for a year.

Pam Eddinger, the president of Bunker Hill, says all of the speakers in the series have experienced poverty or faced some sort of cultural challenge, and managed to rise above it. “If I only look at the dollars, it is a huge amount,” she says. “But it is all part of building a community climate that leads to a certain type of community culture.”

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The fee paid to Abdul-Jabbar was the highest to any speaker in the series. Some of the better-known speakers have included Tavis Smiley, the former PBS talk-show host ($30,000); ABC reporter John Quiñones ($27,500); political activist Angela Davis ($25,000); actress Marlee Matlin ($21,000); and Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ($15,000).

Over the last three years, Bunker Hill has spent about $136,000 a year on various speaker series with similar themes. The average fee of the speakers has been $16,000 over the last three years.

Students pay nothing to attend the talks.