Plagiarizing valedictorian learns nothing

There is a common value shared by many people that one should take responsibility for their own actions. That you should “own” all your actions or decisions – good or bad – the results of them.

Our legal system is based on that value that if you step over the line – whatever line it is – you should held accountable. Except if you are President George Bush – but that’s another story…

If you make a mistake there should be some negative result to you if it was your fault. If you drive drunk you should lose your licence. If you jay walk you should get a ticket. If you cheat you shouldn’t be rewarded. And on and on it goes….

There was a story in the news a couple of weeks ago where a local high school valedictorian was forced to give up his award because he plagiarized the speech he gave at graduation.

Melanio C. Acosta IV, the Circleville (Ohio) High School valedictorian, surrendered the title after admitting that most of his commencement address on June 1 came from a video called “The Perfect Beatles Graduation Speech”, a collage of song lyrics, that had been posted on the video site YouTube.

I remember saying to myself at the time “Good. He learned a valuable lesson. Take someone else’s words or ideas and there is a penalty to pay.”

Well, not so fast. It seems the real lesson he learned is that your parents will bail you out at anytime and you lose nothing.

The Circleville High School valedictorian who surrendered the title after admitting to lifting two-thirds of his commencement speech from a YouTube video won the honor of co-valedictorian today in a settlement with the school district.

Acosta’s 4.5 grade-point average ranks him first in his graduating class of 138. He relinquished his valedictorian title and wrote district officials an apology letter June 4 after admitting that he took most of his commencement address June 1 from a video called The Perfect Beatles Graduation Speech, a collage of song lyrics.

The parents of the 18-year-old, though, maintained that district officials had coerced him to write the letter and had told him what to say. They hired Lancaster lawyer D. Joe Griffith, who argued last week that Acosta had not committed plagiarism because he had credited the Beatles as the authors in his speech.

The agreement averts a lawsuit alleging slander, invasion of privacy and other claims against the district that Griffith had said he planned to file this week in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court.

Settlement restores Circleville valedictorian

Most dictionaries define plagiarism as the act of wrongfully taking another’s words, ideas, or the like, and representing them as one’s own. Acosta’s speech did credit The Beatles for the song lyrics but the person – Cassandra Malloy – who is thought to be the first who gave a speech called “The Perfect Beatles Graduation Speech” – had the idea to use the lyrics in the format presented. Acosta admitted to cribbing 2/3 from a 2nd version by another student also posted on YouTube. But it still sounds like plagiarism to me.

But this is not the first instance of parents bailing out a child who, in fact, did something wrong.

One school district had a run in with the parents of a high school student who had violated the school system’s “zero tolerance” policy. He was involved in a fight at school with another student. The boy didn’t start the fight but he was fighting – violating the rules. Both were given 10 day out of school suspensions.

His parents raised a big stink – including attending several school board meetings – to have the transgression expunged and their child allowed back in school. The school board caved.

I remember from my school days how a parent should support their child. They should take the good with the bad in the hopes the child learns a valuable lesson and becomes a better person.

I was in 3rd grade and got into yet another fight with my nemesis Brad S. Once again he pushed all my buttons and we ended up rolling around in the snow at recess and were then sent to the principals office.

Mr. Winemuller was very upset with me. He had warned me about fighting. He had reached the end of his patience. He told me that if I got into another fight he would need to use the paddle on me (this was the late 70’s when corporal punishment was still allowed). He brought out a huge wooden paddle with large holes to reduce air resistance – causing greater pain with less effort.

He sat the paddle on his desk and I remember it went *THUNK*. I gulped and promised I would never get into another fight. He accepted my plea, banned me from recess for two weeks, then let me out of the office.

When my Mom got home from work I told her the whole story. She was mad me for getting into trouble – again – and mad at the school. She took time off work to visit the school and talk to the principal. Later she said, “he’s not going to paddle you unless I am there to witness it…”

I gulped again.

She knew and accepted I was wrong and should be punished but loved me enough to make sure they wouldn’t take advantage of the trust school administrators get for being “in loco parentis“. Which is a Latin term for a legal concept that the school is allowed to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit “in place of the parents.”

I think parents should be supportive of their children and not except the actions of a school toward their child without careful examination but if the kid did something wrong then they shouldn’t try to cover for the child by using threats of legal suits or raising a big stink. Johnny or Suzy isn’t always right just as the school isn’t always right.