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Plagiarised Titanic speech ends in disaster

United States

A "Titanic" mistake sank the career of a North Carolina schools chief last week.

Keith Cook fell foul of his education authority's own anti-plagiarism rules after delivering a speech to school-leavers, drawing wisdom from the 1997 movie epic about the doomed ship. It was cribbed almost word-for-word from one given six years ago by President Clinton's health minister.

Cook quit as chairman of Orange County School Board at a stormy meeting, last Monday, after being rumbled by a parent who had been at Orange high school's graduation ceremony "I can still recall my own high school graduation," Cook told Orange high's class of 2004. "The relief. The hugging. The tears of joy. And that was just the teachers."

This was exactly what Donna Shalala, the former US health and human services secretary, said in a 1998 address to a school in Madison, Wisconsin, available on the internet.

The "deep thoughts" he ultimately imparted were cherry-picked from Shalala's 10, including: "Be prepared. If you book a cruise on an unsinkable ship, pack a wetsuit."

Cook initially told North Carolina's Herald-Sun the speech was his own work, before confessing to filching it from a website. He declined to comment, but in a letter to Orange high students and parents said he had wracked his brain for "something...profound" to say, before turning to the internet for "inspiration".

He told the Herald-Sun he had typed "graduation speeches" into Google.

Despite relinquishing his chairmanship, Cook retained his seat on the board, He got off lightly compared with Orange County high students who are found guilty of plagiarising other people's work. Young culprits receive a zero grade, and face suspension.

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