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It is difficult to conceive of the paths of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and America's best-selling female mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark ever crossing, let alone in Philadelphia.

However, thanks to the first annual Philadelphia Speakers Series -- which will kick off in Center City at the Kimmel Center on Oct. 4 and last for several months -- some of the world's most renowned and celebrated personalities will speak from the same stage.

In addition to Kissinger and Clark, the star-studded lineup features political commentator and consultant James Carville, as well as former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres. The list also includes two Pulitzer Prize winners -- humor columnist Dave Barry and journalist and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin -- and Frank Abagnale, ex-convict, Federal Bureau of Investigation consultant and the inspiration for the film Catch Me If You Can.

Over the course of the year, the seven lectures will examine a wide spectrum of issues, ranging from the 2004 presidential election to identity theft to international relations.

"I think the speakers really represent a good cross section of American intellectual life," said Chris Clark, spokesman for Widener University, which is sponsoring the series. "We have authors, artists, political leaders -- there's something for everyone in this group."

This opportunity to appeal to and attract intellectuals from all arenas is one of Widener's principal goals in sponsoring the series. Widener officials hoped that the series would draw educated individuals from all walks of life in order to provoke informed debate and thereby enhance the cultural vibrancy of the Philadelphia area.

"Philadelphia has a lot of cultural resources, but this is unique -- nothing like this has been offered to the public in recent memory," Clark said. "We thought the series would be a good intellectual and cultural resource for Philadelphians, which would spark enlivened discussion among our residents."

However, many students have complained that the ticket prices are exorbitantly expensive.

Although Clark insists that Widener hopes to attract "a whole cross section of Philadelphians, from professors to business owners to students," many students complain that the tickets -- which are sold only as a package of seven, at prices ranging from $275 to $425 -- have all but barred the series from most students' budgets.

Although this is the premiere of such a series in Philadelphia, similar lecture series have met with sold-out success in Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

With over 80 percent of Verizon Hall's 2,500 seats already sold, both organizers and participants are optimistic regarding the upcoming Speakers Series and its ability to accomplish its goals.

"Each of the speakers, particularly Mr. Abagnale, offers a different perspective than the others," said Kelly Welbes, who served as Abagnale's agent for the engagement. "If the talks are as popular as his speech in St. Louis, the variety will really enhance the intellectualism of not only the series, but of the city as well."

But despite its tremendous potential to augment Philadelphia's cultural scene, the hefty price tag of tickets has left others skeptical that the Speakers Series will not be able to reach a diverse audience and achieve its maximum potential.

"Charging that much money is a lot to ask a student to pay," said Jeff Shuster, a Wharton senior and member of the Social Planning and Events Committee's Connaissance Committee. "Connaissance's goal is to make events as accessible to students as possible. By making their tickets so expensive, a lot of students who are interested are excluded."

"The opportunity to hear a firsthand account and anecdotes from renowned speakers is truly a remarkable opportunity," Shuster said. "Talks like these would definitely provoke intellectual discourse and enhance the city's cultural offerings, but what the organizers don't understand is that the ticket prices will mute a lot of that discourse by preventing students from attending."

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