Garden Spot principal admits to borrowing commencement speech

Garden Spot Principal Matt Sanger delivers a commencement speech to the Class of 2014 Friday night. Much of his address was pulled from the work of a well-known American novelist. 

Most people didn’t notice anything odd about Garden Spot High School Principal Matt Sanger's commencement speech Friday night.

In fact, he received a thundering ovation.

It turns out, however, that most of the address, which evoked tears from audience members, had been lifted from one delivered by the late author David Foster Wallace in 2005.

Sanger acknowledged the next day that he borrowed from Wallace’s speech and said he should have told the audience the source of his inspiration.

Many in the Garden Spot community were surprised by the revelation of the principal’s mistake.

But Sanger is not alone.

A quick search on Google finds that this sort of thing happens more than you might think.

It seems every graduation season there are stories about administrators who were caught plagiarizing material for their commencement speeches.

As district leaders decide what — if anything — they will do about Sanger’s miscue, here’s a look at what happened to others administrators discovered doing something similar.

• A New York middle school principal resigned after coming under fire for plagiarizing the same Wallace speech Sanger neglected to cite.

The New York Daily News reported in June 2011 that Joseph Anderson delivered parts of the speech without attribution. The chancellor of the school system told the press that the incident would be investigated.

Anderson left shortly after that.

• A history teacher at an Arizona high school received no punishment for plagiarizing a commencement speech in 2005 that largely lifted from Pulitzer-Prize winning author Anna Quindlen.

The Arizona Republic reported at the time that the incident was actually the second time Mark Sweeney had tried to take credit for the speech. He had previously delivered the address at a National Honor’s Society induction ceremony earlier that year.

• Almost a week after admitting to having plagiarized large parts of a speech, Philip Baker resigned in 2011 from his position as dean of the University of Alberta’s medical school.

During a one-on-one meeting with the provost, The National Post reported that the Baker was urged to step down when it was discovered he borrowed from a famous address made by a world-renowned surgeon.

• Illinois high school principal Jim Caudill was reassigned to the district office after he admitted plagiarizing parts of his May 2008 speech.

Caudill told the Chicago Tribune that he copied a speech given by a former graduate because he was dissatisfied with the remarks he had prepared and decided to seek inspiration from speeches that the school keeps in a file.

• Susan Duval, a high school principal in Florida, was caught twice for stealing portions of her 2004 and 2005 graduation speeches from other authors.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that she admitted stealing long, nearly verbatim passages from a widely circulated 1997 Chicago Tribune column by Mary Schmich and a popular Internet “Noah’s Ark” work without attribution.

Duval received a $1,500 fine and letter of reprimand to settle a state inquiry into her plagiarized addresses. She was allowed to keep her state certification as a teacher and principal.

Karen Shuey is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer who covers state and federal government and politics. She can be reached at or (717) 291-8716. You can also follow @Karen_Shuey on Twitter.