NCCU law graduate accused of commencement speech plagiarism

Staff writerMay 16, 2011 

A law student who graduated from N.C. Central University last week has found himself in hot water after plagiarizing a speech to thousands of people at a commencement ceremony.

Preston Mitchum, 25, said in an interview that he found video of a speech made last year by Anthony Corvino, a student at Binghamton University in New York.

Mitchum copied the speech, delivering parts of it word for word at Friday's ceremony for graduate and professional students at NCCU. In an interview Monday, he said he meant to credit Corvino in the speech. He didn't.

On Monday, he apologized, saying, "I feel terrible and I know this is going to have a horrific backlash."

A faculty disciplinary committee will review the matter and take appropriate action, said Raymond Pierce, NCCU's law dean.

"Quite frankly, I'm disgusted," Pierce said. "I spared no words in expressing to Mr. Mitchum how disgusted I am with this, and shocked. I mean, he is a student leader here at our law school. Plagiarism is a sad, yet unfortunate reality in higher education, we all know that. That is not to make any excuse but it is a sad and unfortunately reality. I would say, of all places, a school of law has no place for that."

The speech was a humorous take on an average kid being asked to deliver a commencement speech, highlighting the triumphs of being average, not exceptional. The speech gained laughs at NCCU.

"We, the average, who have committed to understanding that procrastination is not only a big word, but it's our way of life," Mitchum said in cap and gown at the podium. "This speech is for the student who doesn't see extra credit as an opportunity but instead, a threat."

Mitchum, who is set to take the bar exam this summer and pursue another graduate degree at American University, was emotional as he discussed the situation Monday.

"I just don't want this to have an effect on my career," said Mitchum, who has published two law review articles and was head the law school student body.

Corvino, the Binghamton student whose original speech gained popularity on YouTube, called The News & Observer Monday to vouch for Mitchum. Corvino said Mitchum ran the speech by him via Facebook, and Corvino OKed it.

"I feel awful for the kid because he seems really sincere," Corvino said. "He apologized to me and everything. I think it was just like a big accident he made."

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