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Hernando principal stole 2004 speech, too

Springstead principal Susan Duval apologizes for plagiarizing her 2005 graduation speech and says it wasn't her first time.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published June 8, 2005


SPRING HILL - The Hernando County principal who plagiarized a speech for her commencement address this year has done the same thing before.

Springstead High School principal Susan Duval issued a letter of apology on Tuesday for failing to credit the author of her plagiarized speech at this year's commencement.

But Duval, 58, also acknowledged cribbing from "material" that someone gave to her before delivering the 2004 commencement speech as well.

Last year, Duval began her speech by declaring: "I would like to share some personal thoughts with you - the class of 2004."

Then, after reciting some class accomplishments, she proceeded to read, almost word for word, a brief, popular collection of sayings sometimes called "All I need to know I learned from Noah's Ark."

Duval introduced the pilfered text by stating: "I ask you to think about everything you need to know and how it might be appropriate in terms of the circumstances of building an ark."

Much as she did at this year's graduation ceremony, Duval sometimes omitted a few sentences and altered some phrases. Still, she then essentially read the piece almost word for word.

It is uncertain who first wrote the "Noah's Ark" text, but it is listed on numerous Web pages and is often credited to an anonymous author. Some Web pages have slightly different versions of the text.

Still, identical phrases in Duval's speech and one widely distributed version of the "Noah's Ark" text include:

--"Don't miss the boat ... Remember that we are all in the same boat."

--"When you're stressed, float awhile."

--"Build your future on high ground."

After reading from the "Noah's Ark" text, Duval also quoted country singer Lee Ann Womack, including the lyric "I hope you dance." But Duval made a point of crediting Womack.

In her letter of apology, Duval acknowledged she had committed "unintentional errors" by failing to give due credit to the true authors of her speeches. But she also wrote that she didn't believe her listeners would think she had written her commencement speeches.

"While I had absolutely no intent to convey that those quotes were mine, I understand that that impression could have been left and for that I do apologize," Duval wrote. "I have let myself, my family and ever(y) person I have ever worked with, down."

Duval did not respond to a request for an interview. In her letter, she did not explain why she introduced both speeches as her "personal thoughts."

In 2003, superintendent Wendy Tellone hired Duval as Springstead's principal. Her predecessor, superintendent John Sanders, had removed Duval from the same job in 1996 with no explanation.

School district officials are still investigating Duval, who has several decades of experience in the county's schools.

Tellone announced the investigation after a Times article detailed how Duval's May 26, 2005 commencement speech was almost identical to a famous Chicago Tribune newspaper column by Mary Schmich.

Schmich's column was the basis for both an Internet hoax about the writer Kurt Vonnegut and a Billboard Hot100 hit song. It is often known as the "sunscreen" speech and includes the oft-quoted line: "If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it."

Duval introduced the sunscreen speech with the statement: "I would like to share some personal thoughts with you - the Class of 2005."

She later said in the speech: "Part of my advice to the Class of 2005 is not to worry about the future."

But Duval read the text of Schmich's column almost verbatim.

It is uncertain what penalty Duval might receive. The district's student code of conduct specifies that students found guilty of plagiarism multiple times can be suspended or expelled.

At the end of her letter of apology, Duval acknowledged that she was a role model to her staff and students and deserved to be held to the strictest ethical requirements.

"In haste, and in failing to give those speeches the attention they deserved, I did not follow my own standards and for that I am truly embarrassed and sorry," she wrote.

Duval later concluded:

"Given the fact that as an educator/administrator I am, and should be, held to a higher standard, I stand ready to accept any consequences that the superintendent and School Board might deem appropriate for my unintentional errors."

--Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

[Last modified June 8, 2005, 01:06:11]


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