Johnson So Far Speechless On Copycat Commencement

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dan Johnson cartoon by Dave Held
Jack Durham & Kevin L. Hoover 

Mad RiveNewspapeGuild 

NORTHERN HUMBOLDT – Despite the growing uproar over the plagiarized commencement speech he gave at a June 13 Arcata High School graduation ceremony, NHUHSD School Boardmember Dan Johnson is remaining silent on the issue.

A member of the Northern Humboldt Union High School District Board of Trustees – which oversees Arcata and McKinleyville high schools – Johnson had not returned e-mails and phone calls made by the Arcata Eye and McKinleyville Press as of press time on Monday afternoon.

For his AHS commencement address at Humboldt State’s Redwood Bowl, Johnson called his daughter, an AHS student, up to the stage and told her he was going to read a letter he had written to her – but that she had never seen before.

Johnson then read without attribution a piece, most of which was lifted from the famous “You Are Not Special” speech given by Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr. to that school’s class of 2012.

Dan Johnson delivering the plagiarized commencement speech. Submitted photo

Dan Johnson delivering the plagiarized commencement speech. Submitted photo

Many of the students recognized the speech, as they had done a rhetorical analysis on it for their AP English class last year.

Not only has Johnson been tight-lipped about the controversy, but so have most of his fellow school board members.

E-mails sent to Boardmembers Dana Silvernale, Colleen Toste and Dan Collen were not returned.

Board President Mike Pigg was the only boardmember to respond.

“It’s unfortunate that Dan made the choice that he did. I am going to leave it up to Dan on how he would like to respond. I guess board members, superintendent and principals will need to have a discussion and review about graduation speeches prior to the ceremony. We have never had to in the past,” Pigg wrote in an e-mail.

AHS Principal Dave Navarre stated in an e-mail, “ I really have no comment regarding any of the speeches. Overall, the ceremony was a wonderful celebration for a truly exceptional group of AHS students.”

“I do not like to see any of this take away from the accomplishments of the class of 2013,” said NHUHSD Superintendent Chris Hartley ” The students worked hard to get where they are and we wish them the absolute best in the future.  Administration, teachers, staff and students work hard in preparing for each ceremony and all of our high school graduations were terrific celebrations.  I look forward to discussing with our administration, staff and board how we can best honor our students in the future.”

Hartley promised future action to address the apparent plagiarism. “The board, principals and I will work collaboratively as usual to work through the details of this particular situation,” he said. “Anything broader than that you will need to speak directly with Dan.”

Letters to the editor and comments about the speech posted on the Arcata Eye and McKinleyville Press Facebook pages  nearly all condemned of Johnson’s failure to provide attribution for the speech. Some called it sad while others said it was inappropriate and disrespectful. Some have  called for Johnson’s resignation from the school board.

Letter to the Editor: A thief and a liar 

Out of respect for the dozen or so students whom I failed for their plagiarism during my career as an English teacher, I ask you to resign your position as a boardmember.

As our students know, this is a serious offense; you have acted as both a thief and a liar.

Please set the right example and step down immediately. You can no longer stand as an effective leader of a school if you don’t know what plagiarism means.

An apology doesn’t mean much. My students all apologized for their plagiarism, but they still received a failing grade. And most of them honorably accepted that failing grade.

Steve Irwin 


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