He was used to drawing sell-out crowds to Los Angeles' Great Western Forum, but all-time NBA scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could only draw 200 students to Penn's 1,200-seat Irvine Auditorium. The failure of Connaissance's featured fall speaker -- measured both in disappointing ticket sales and the disappointed looks on the faces of those in attendance -- is a sign of a job poorly done by the student-run and -funded organization. The first problem is one of communication -- between Connaissance and its speaker, and between Connaissance and the student body. In the first case, we hope that our student leaders did not invite Abdul-Jabbar to campus for the express purpose of having him read from his book. In the second, the nature of Abdul-Jabbar's talk should have been better explained to the paying audience. The second problem is with the choice of the speaker. While certainly a fine athlete, Abdul-Jabbar's off-the-court accomplishments have not given him the expected level of social significance. In the recent past, most Connaissance guests -- James Earl Jones, George Stephanopoulos, Benjamin Netanyahu, Conan O'Brien -- have appealed to a wide spectrum of campus. In this case, Abdul-Jabbar wasn't even the most popular or well-known person on his own team. The final problem is with the topic of Abdul-Jabbar's talk. There is not anything wrong with a speech on the lives and struggles of African Americans, but is Abdul-Jabbar really the person to deliver that message? Any of a number of other public figures, from Corretta Scott King to Rosa Parks to Jesse Jackson, would have sold out Irvine Auditorium with a talk on that subject. But the disjoint between the medium, a former basketball player, and the message, race relations, doomed the speech before it was even given. We hope that in coming semesters Connaissance takes these issues to heart. Its speakers are some of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year, and we hope to see more speakers of broad appeal and worthy messages.Comments powered by Disqus
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