Duke speaker accused of plagiarizing Harvard speech

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Duke University.

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Duke University says it is “concerned” and will investigate a student’s graduation speech from Sunday, which closely mirrors a commencement address given at Harvard University in 2014.

The similarities, first pointed out in the Duke Chronicle, are shown through side-by-side comparisons and a YouTube video that highlights the similar passages.

“We are aware of and concerned about these allegations and have initiated a process to understand the facts of the situation,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. “Duke University expects all students to abide by their commitment to the Duke Community Standard in everything they do as students.”

Class of 2022 speaker Priya Parkash gave the address Sunday at Wallace Wade Stadium, and by Monday, at least one tweet appeared alleging plagiarism, noting Sarah Abushaar’s 2014 speech at Harvard, which has nearly 4 million views on YouTube.

Through a public relations spokesman, Parkash issued a statement Tuesday night taking “full responsibility.”

“When I was asked to give the commencement speech,” the statement read, “I was thrilled by such an honor and I sought advice from respected friends and family about topics I might address. I was embarrassed and confused to find out too late that some of the suggested passages were taken from a recent commencement speech at another university. I take full responsibility for this oversight and I regret if this incident has in any way distracted from the accomplishments of the Duke class of 2022.”

The Chronicle’s story appeared online Monday night, displaying transcripts from both speeches. In one section, both speakers describe experiences with security checkpoints while returning to the United States.

Abushaar: “Whenever they saw I was coming from the Middle East: ‘What were you doing there? Why are you here? Why did God make you from the Middle East?’ But I made sure I dressed like our overly proud Harvard dads, with Harvard hat, Harvard shirt, Harvard shorts and Harvard underwear and as soon as they saw I was a citizen of Harvard: “Ohhhh! You go to Harvard?! Surely you must not be a national security threat! Welcome to America!”

Parkash: “Before departing every semester, I would raid the Duke store like our overly enthusiastic Duke moms and dads, and showed up to the airport looking like the Blue Devil (but not the Blue Devil)—yes, we’re talking Duke hat , Duke shirt, Duke shorts, Duke slides, Duke sunglasses, even Duke underwear. As soon as the immigration officers saw that I bled Duke blue, “Oh you’re a Duke national, national security threat, nah, not you, come on in.”

Nearly identical wording persists throughout.

Abushaar: “And running through Harvard Yard over the past four years, the skin of our feet collecting a world of experiences, we each become this place in a strange way, each of us picking up bits of people and history and ideas that changed the way we saw the world.”

Parkash: “Over the last four years, as the sole of our shoes have collected a world of experiences, we all have become this place in rather perplexing ways, each one of us internalizing pieces of people and history and ideas that have transformed our outlook on the world.”

The Chronicle described Parkash as a former university news editor and a 2022 Undergraduate Young Trustee finalist. She could not be reached for comment early Tuesday.

Abushaar, whose LinkedIn page describes her as a healthcare investor for the Stanford GSB Fund and a former White House intern, also could not be reached.

This story was originally published May 10, 2022 11:10 AM.

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Josh Shaffer is a general assignment reporter on the watch for “talkers,” which are stories you might discuss around a water cooler. He has worked for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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