The principal of West Boca Raton Community High School in Florida is being accused of giving a commencement speech last month that is basically a condensed edition of Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough, Jr.’s 2012 “You’re Not Special” graduation speech. Principal Mark Stenner changed a few references, to localize them, in a weak attempt to cover his tracks. (You can get a flavor of the overlap in the video below.)
The principal, who apparently doesn’t get what plagiarism is nor understand the fact that pretty much everyone in the US can see what’s on the Internet, is quoted in the Sun Sentinel (Mr. Stenner, this is what we call “attribution”) as saying he did not plagiarize the McCullough speech because he shortened it “quite a bit” and changed some wording.
“That was my mistake,” he said. “I liked his idea. I should have said this was in part taken from him.”
Apparently students at this school are not allowed to plagiarize, but perhaps they can shorten and re-use. (We were going to include a photo of Stenner with this post, but the page on the school website with his bio on it no longer exists.)
The Palm Beach County School District is investigating the Stenner situation, according to Florida’s WPBF 25 (there it is again, “attribution”). And in fact, Stenner is being investigated as well regarding whether he “borrowed” another speech last year from a University of Texas professor, according to the Sun Sentinel.
While McCullough’s speech went viral, knocking out our site after we published the transcript (with McCullough’s permission!) and piling up 2.5 million YouTube views, it appears that Stenner’s actions won’t become quite as well known. Though the UK’s Daily Mail did pick up the story (and the Townsman might be sad to know that Stenner changed the reference to the local newspaper in McCullough’s speech to “the Sun-Sentinel, or the Palm Beach Post”).
McCullough, who converted his speech into a book and just this week had an op-ed about speeches published in the Globe, has taken the high road regarding Stenner’s mess.
McCullough’s speech has proven to be a convenient find for more than one school higher-up in recent years. In 2013, a trustee for a northern California school district apologized, sort of, after cribbing McCullough’s speech.
Wellesley High holds its graduation ceremony today.
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