North Carolina Central University Student Accused of Plagiarizing Commencement Speech

Law Student Preston Mitchum, 25, did not quite have the graduation that he anticipated at N.C. Central University Law School. It should have been his crowning glory as the class speaker at the graduation but has now turned into a nightmare after he was accused of plagiarizing his speech from a Binghamton University student in New York.

Mitchum of Youngstown, Ohio, admits that he found the speech of Anthony Corvino on YouTube. He insisted that in his nervousness he forgot to credit Corvino and now says that he fears “a horrific backlash.” He may be right. A faculty disciplinary committee is investigating.

Dean Raymond Pierce has said “I’m disgusted. I spared no words in expressing to Mr. Mitchum how disgusted I am with this, and shocked.”

It could well prove costly for Mitchum if the faculty finds that his very final act as a law student violated the honor code. There is an interesting question, however, as to the jurisdiction of the school. Some schools actually award the degrees before the law school ceremonies — making the commencement only a diploma ceremony. If Mitchum already graduated, the question is the jurisdiction over him by the faculty committee. However, it could be a moot point. The faculty could report the matter to the bar, assuming bar officials have not already learned of the controversy.

Mitchum deserves to be heard on the allegations. If true, there remains the question of whether such a lapse of judgment should bar him from practice. I am unaware of a case of plagiarism being used as the basis to suspend a lawyer. However, Mitchum still has to pass the moral/fitness part of the bar application. This may have been a momentary lapse of judgment under the pressure of this speech. It does not excuse the act, if it was intentional, but it is hard to see a student barred from practice for such an act. NCCU students often have to overcome significant financial struggles to achieve their dreams of being lawyers. A permanent bar would appear pretty harsh.

One strong piece of evidence in Mitchum’s defense is the fact that Corvino has come forward to say that he vouches for Mitchum and says that Mitchum ran the speech by him before the graduation. In my view, that would create some reasonable doubt on the question of scienter or intent.

I would be interested in the views of our regulars on what the proper punishment should be if Mitchum is found guilty.

Ironically, Corvino was embracing a student life structured on principles of minimized work and effort: “We, the average, who have continued to prove that procrastination and apathy are not just big words, but also a way of life.”

Now Corvino can take credit for giving two commencement speeches.

Here is the original speech:

Source: News Observer as first seen on ABA Journal.

13 thoughts on “North Carolina Central University Student Accused of Plagiarizing Commencement Speech”

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  2. The scient argument is absurd. I could not get permission from the original writer to pass off as my own something for a grade or a prestigious speech, and not think it plagiarism. And Mitchum is a law student!
    Also, professor Turley, Corvino’s speech is NOT a paean to slackerism, but a good tongue-in-cheek standup routine.
    Without a lot of revision, it wouldn’t fit NCCU’s self-image or mission–they are rightfully proud–and hurt by this. Here’s the thing: Ineluctable changes made by the plagiarist PROVE intent to plagiarize.
    NCCU should wash their hands of this sorry issue, and let the bar deal with this mature 25-year-old. Too bad, but he’s not a child.

  3. Having been a teacher for many years, I learned that one of the hardest lessons for some of my students was learning when they needed to ask for help. It’s not a sign of stupidity or dumbness–as some thought. I perceived it as a sign of intelligence.
    If Mitchum felt he wasn’t up to the task of writing the speech, it’s too bad that he didn’t seek help. Sometimes students just need a few words of encouragement, some advice, and a little boost of confidence.


    “NCCU students often have to overcome significant financial struggles to achieve their dreams of being lawyers. A permanent bar would appear pretty harsh.”

    Mitchum is a young man. A lot of us make mistakes when we’re young. I think it may be too harsh a punishment to bar him permanently from practicing law too.

  4. Preston Mitchum … a speech of your own creation might not have been spectacular, it might have been embarrassingly awful … but, it would never have put you in the place you are now.

  5. “If true, there remains the question of whether such a lapse of judgment should bar him from practice. I am unaware of a case of plagiarism being used as the basis to suspend a lawyer.”

    I know a Judge that was asked not to rerun for office because as a professor he was caught red handed lifting others works….the decision to not run for office was not really related to that….but was used as a bargaining tool by the JTC as they were ready to hang him high from a tree for numerous counts of extortion….it appeared that he stated to the defendants that if they did not use a certain bonding company that he would reduce the amount of bond….and if they did…well he just gave them extra time for perjuring themselves….I will state that he did not do it for financial gain…he was just trying to penalize a bondsman….a pissing match….so to say…

  6. Not only is Corvino an exceptional student, but an exceptional human being.

    I hope Mitchum learns something from Corvino’s generosity – Here’s hoping Mitchum aspires to be as exceptional as he is.

  7. From the “News Observer” article:

    Author’s blessing

    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.”


    Mitchum definitely should have given Corvino credit for the speech. Did he forget to because of nervousness? I find that hard to believe. I will give him credit for contacting Corvino and getting his okay first.

    It’s too bad Mitchum felt that he couldn’t ask for help/suggestions from one/some of his professors.

  8. “Average is the LSAT tutor who hated law school and wishes they could do it all over again, but loves working with students.”

    “…and you aren’t given opportunity, you fight for it…”

    (from Corvina’s speech)

  9. Corvino gave a great commencement speech — he’s an anything-but-average young man. Perhaps we should let him decide the fate of Mr. Mitchum. Based on the content of his speech, I’m guessing that he could come up with something very creative and, dare I say, appropriate.

  10. I think that volunteering to provide legal assistance to the poor would be nice.

  11. It would be dreadful if the alleged plagiarizer didn’t get his law degree even if he did it. That would NOT be a just result.

    This will be enough for the young man to deal with even if the story is true because now the story is immortalized on the internet.

    And what would Corvino have to gain from this if true? Moreover what has he lost from it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    Our propensity to be morally outraged at everything reminds me of the mentality that led to slapping people in the face with gloves and having duels in the streets for “disrespecting” or dishonoring others.

    This is what street gangs do against each other. Outrage for minor offenses become common and slaughter follows. I’d reckon this young man wish to duel to save his career rather than lose the degree he just worked so hard for.

    The reason the Bible teaches people to turn the other cheek is to avoid this terrible trend in human nature in which small offenses spiral out of control and bigger injustice results.

    If the young man is truly a thief (and the charge of plagiarizing is a claim of theft) he will eventually be found out and punished when there is solid evidence for it.

    He says he was nervous and forgot/missed the notation/or whatever. I completely understand that. Having achieved so much already, it proves the young man doesn’t need to plagiarize. If he was a cheat there would likely already be other evidence of it.

    Where is that evidence?

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