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Octavia Spencer fees top commencement speakers

KENT, Ohio - Kent State University will pay actress Octavia Spencer $100,000 to speak for up to 20 minutes at the first all-university commencement on May 13, according to her contract.

In addition, the university will provide first class airfare for two and top-of-the-line transportation and lodging for the Academy Award-winning actress and author. It will also pay for meals and other expenses.

The university sought a high-profile speaker to highlight the first time it has gathered graduates from the eight-campus system in one place. While celebrity speakers bring publicity and prestige they also come at a high cost, which can draw criticism.

About 30 percent of all colleges pay commencement speakers, according to Inside Higher Ed columnist.

Kent State released this statement Tuesday:

"This is the first year that Kent State University will hold a university-wide commencement ceremony as is the tradition at most national public research institutions. For these ceremonies, it is common to bring in nationally-recognized speakers with a powerful message that will last long after the ceremony concludes. Octavia Spencer's personal journey as one of seven children whose mother was a maid in Alabama, to attend and graduate from college will resonate with our graduates as they themselves accept the challenges and opportunities that await them following graduation. We know she will inspire the audience with a message that encourages each graduate to be their authentic selves as they set out to change the world. We are delighted to welcome her to Kent State."

The ceremony in Dix Stadium is expected to draw 12,000 to 15,000, according to Spencer's contract. Her duties include a 9 a.m. "step and repeat" photo line with 25 to 30 VIPs. Her 15- to 20-minute speech will be at 11 a.m.

Spencer appears to be the highest profile commencement speaker in Ohio this spring.

Following are the commencement speakers at Northeast Ohio colleges.

Baldwin Wallace University: Dee Bagwell Haslam, a successful businesswoman, television producer and philanthropist who co-owns the Cleveland Browns with her husband Jimmy, will speak at the May 6 commencement. BW does not pay a fee, a spokeswoman said.

Case Western Reserve University: Civil rights attorney Fred Gray will speak at the May 21 commencement.

A native of Alabama, Gray earned his law degree in 1954 from CWRU and became entrenched on the front lines of the 1960s civil rights movement. During his career he represented Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, among other historic, high-profile clients. Gray was also instrumental in the legal action leading to the desegregation of all public institutions of higher education.

Cleveland State University: Piotr Wilczek, Polish ambassador to the United States, will speak at the May 13 commencement. CSU is not paying a fee.

Hiram College: Kenneth Moore, an alumnus and partner at Squire Patton Boggs will speak at the May 13 commencement.

John Carroll University: Father Myles Sheehan, assistant to the Provincial for Senior Jesuits of the Maryland Province and the USA Northeast Province, will speak at the May 21 commencement. Sheehan is a physician and helps oversee healthcare centers.

Lake Erie College: Elizabeth Abraham, an alumna who is the owner and CEO of Top Tool Company in Minneapolis, will speak at the May 7 commencement.

Notre Dame College: President Thomas Kruczek will address graduates at three ceremonies on May 6, two for undergraduates and one for graduate students.

Oberlin College: Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, will speak at the May 22 commencement. Prior to joining Ford, Walker he was vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation.

University of Akron: President Matthew Wilson will give the commencement address at all six ceremonies -- one on May 12, three on May 13 and two on May 14.

Ursuline College: Sister Maureen Doyle, who is retiring in May after directing the Urban Community School for 30 years, will speak at the May 19 commencement.


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