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School Board Chairman May Have Plagiarized Commencement Speech

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HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — A local school official faces an embarrassing situation. It appears he plagiarized a commencement address.

At Orange High School's graduation, School Board Chairman Keith Cook gave the commencement speech. School board member Dana Thompson said Cook's remarks sounded strange.

"I think the initial reaction everyone had was that they were uncharacteristic of him," Thompson said. "There was conversation among students immediately that this was plagiarized work."

Cook's speech included seven lessons learned from the movie "Titanic," which was strikingly similar to a speech given by former White House cabinet member Donna Shalala.

Shalala's speech is easy to find. Just get on the Internet, type in a search for "graduation speeches," and Shalala's speech is one of many that pops up.

Shalala's speech was given six years ago, a year after "Titanic" was released. In it, she outlines 10 lessons learned from the story of the sinking ship.

Cook did not answer the door when WRAL went to his home, and he did not return WRAL's phone calls.

The Orange County School System released a statement Wednesday evening. It says: "We are disappointed and sincerely hope that this incident will not be a blemish on the outstanding work our staff and students accomplish daily."

Thompson said she has gotten plenty of calls from angry parents. So has the school system's central office.

"I think action needs to be taken, and he needs to apologize," student Julie Hunt said.

Hunt was one of the graduates who heard Cook's speech. She said Cook should be a role model.

"(Plagiarism) is something we've been told we can't do," Hunt said. "He's done it, and something needs to be done to show if you do it, this is what's going to happen."

The message Cook delivered may not have been the one he intended. In the end, he may be the one learning a lesson; he's up for re-election in July.

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