HCC students question choice of orientation speaker

NBA star Robert Traylor left college for the NBA

August 29, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Denyse Wright-Thissedau, a premed student at Howard Community College in Columbia, doesn't have anything against basketball, or basketball players, or even, specifically, NBA star Robert "Tractor" Traylor of the Milwaukee Bucks.

But she wonders why HCC officials invited Traylor, of all people, to speak at the orientation for new students last Friday, considering that he never graduated from college.

"You're trying to give these people motivation to move on, and this gentleman has not completed college," said Wright-Thissedau, 38, of Columbia. "You are giving them the wrong message."

`A good message'

Traylor, 22, played basketball for the University of Michigan before leaving last year, his junior year, to join the National Basketball Association. In his speech at the community college, he wore a T-shirt and sneakers.

The ballplayer told the incoming students that college is a "great opportunity." He told them to take learning seriously. He told them he plans to return to college to finish his degree and start a new career.

"To me, doctors are more important than basketball players," he said. "Lawyers are more important than basketball players. I want to be a successful businessman once it's all said and done."

Students seemed most impressed, though, by Traylor's salary, which he said was $1.5 million last year. They greeted the news with laughter and applause.

Though Sean Eastman, 17, a freshman from Ellicott City wasn't as impressed. "It makes you feel pretty low," he said. "He's only five years older than me, and it's more than I'll make in 10 years."

Randy Bengfort, a spokesman for HCC, defended the college's decision to have Traylor speak, saying: "He was chosen because he has a good message."

In the past three years, Bengfort said, the speakers were two news anchors and Jair Lynch, a gymnast who won a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Bengfort said the HCC staff tries to get recommendations from students.

"[Traylor] certainly stressed the value of education," Bengfort said. "He commented that education may be more important to him now than [while] at the University of Michigan."

Indeed, Traylor said he remembers being a new student himself -- even sitting through orientation but not really listening, which he said he regrets. "I really wish I had paid attention," he said.

He told the students he didn't start to appreciate learning until he broke his arm while a student at Michigan.

"I'm 6 foot 8 inches, 330 pounds, and I'm sitting there crying like a baby," he said. "I didn't think I'd be able to play basketball ever again. From that point on, I started to take education seriously."

`You can always learn'

Bryan Ringgold, 21, who hopes to graduate from HCC this year, thought that officials should have picked a speaker with a college degree. He said he was never asked who he might have wanted to hear.

He was also only mildly impressed, saying: "It was good to hear that he's planning to go back to school."

Sarah Esbrandt, 19, a music education major from Ellicott City, thought the college should have chosen a speaker with a degree -- and she would have preferred someone involved in music or the arts.

"I wish they had a speaker that had more to do with my major," she said, just before heading into the auditorium to hear Traylor speak. Looking on the bright side, she said: "You can always learn from any situation, which is the truth."

Some students found Traylor's speech uplifting.

"I liked it," said Mike Franklin, an 18-year-old freshman from Columbia. "I thought it was inspirational how he's sticking with college, even though he went to the NBA and made lots of money."

"I thought it was brilliant," said Richard Brown, 18, from Ellicott City. "It was just really inspiring. He's using his fame for good use."

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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