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A law student who graduated from N.C. Central University last week is in hot water after plagiarizing a speech in front of thousands of people at commencement.
Preston Mitchum, 25, of Youngstown, Ohio, apologized Monday for his conduct, which has triggered a review by NCCU officials.
In an interview, Mitchum said he was under pressure to come up with a speech and found a YouTube 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, but didn't.
"I feel terrible, and I know this is going to have a horrific backlash," he said.
A faculty disciplinary committee will review the matter, 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. ... I would say, of all places, a school of law has no place for that."
Corvino's speech was a humorous take on an average kid being asked to deliver a commencement speech. It touted the virtues of living an average life instead of constantly striving for fame and fortune. The speech has gained popularity on YouTube, where more than 178,000 have viewed it.
"We, the average, who have continued to prove that procrastination and apathy are not just big words, but also a way of life," Corvino said. "This speech is for the student who has never seen extra credit as an opportunity, but instead a threat - the same student who still believes that one day, there will be a snow day."
Corvino's words elicited laughs at NCCU, too.
"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."
But, word spread on Facebook that the speech was not Mitchum's.
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.
"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 of the law school student body.
Corvino, the Binghamton student who wrote the original speech, called The News & Observer on Monday to vouch for Mitchum. Corvino said Mitchum ran the speech by him via Facebook before NCCU's graduation, and Corvino OK'd 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."
About a week ago, Mitchum said, he had started writing his own speech.
"It just didn't sound right," he said. "It didn't sound right at all. That's when I began to go to different outlets and see, maybe there's a graduation speech that can give me an idea or a point or some kind of direction I can go toward."
He said he liked Corvino's speech and fully intended to credit him by name, but skipped over it "out of nervousness and anxiousness and excitement." He also added some of his own thoughts to the speech.
Mitchum said he is familiar with the rules of attribution.
"I'm not stupid," he said. "It's certainly not like, I was like, 'Oh, I'm going to get away with this,' because I know it's YouTube, it's everywhere."
The dean said Mitchum's indiscretion was embarrassing and would be dealt with appropriately.
"You don't need this," he said. "It was a grand occasion - people coming together to see their children, sons and daughters and loved ones - graduate from law school. This is totally inconsistent with our legacy."
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