It’s the time of the year where students across the U.S., and much of the rest of the world, are graduating from high school and college. This means a slew of ceremonies, speeches and addresses that are just as much a part of the graduation ritual as caps and gowns.
However, every year it seems at least some of those graduation ceremonies are tainted by allegations of plagiarism in the various speeches. This year, unfortunately, is no exception.
In Massachusetts, a school valedictorian has admitted to plagiarizing parts of his speech, including several jokes about Chipotle, which were lifted from a YouTube video posted in 2006.
The school has not released the student’s name but has said that they have addressed the situation and are taking “appropriate” action.
However, the bigger story took place in Florida, where principal Mark Stenner has been accused of plagiarizing parts of his speeches not just from this year, but the previous year.
According to the accusations, portions of Stenner’s speech are lifted verbatim from other famous commencement addresses including a 2012 speech by David McCullough Jr. and and a 2010 speech by Dr. Marc Lewis.
The district in that case is currently investigating but neither of the victims, when contacted by reporters, had any issue with the reuse. Lewis even went as far as to say, "I'm complimented that Mr. Stenner found my speech worthy of swiping."
Regardless, in both of these cases, there are two schools whose students’ graduations will be best known not as their special day day, but for plagiarism scandals. To any of the students in those graduating classes, the bulk of the headlines aren’t about their achievements and their success, but rather, the failings of the people on stage.
That robs those who are earning their diplomas and their degrees of the opportunity to have their moment and it’s all because either a student or an administrator, either of whom should have known better, failed to follow the practices that are common in academia.
Part of the issue is that graduation speeches are often treated very differently than other works of academia. Speeches, because of their format, can’t have the same citation standards essays and other academic works. However, the principle of giving credit where it’s due still applies and there are citation standards that can be applied to speeches.
Still, speeches, especially graduation speeches, are very unique works from the standpoint of plagiarism and attribution. Even principals and valedictorians are unlikely to have faced anything like it. But, given what’s at stake and the number of students counting on the day to be one that they can remember fondly, it’s important to address these issue.
However, far too many schools make their graduation speeches an after thought. Hopefully though, after the negative press from this and previous years, schools and universities alike will begin to focus more these speeches and work to make sure that they aren’t just up to the content standards set by the school, but also the integrity standards as well.
Because, just as a school won’t allow speeches with offensive material, they shouldn’t allow speeches with plagiarized material. It’s common sense and it’s the only fair thing for all of the students who are trying to celebrate their achievements.
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