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Duke investigating student Commencement speech that resembles Harvard address, speaker issues statement

Duke administrators are looking into the 2022 student Commencement speech after The Chronicle reported that its language resembled that of a past Harvard Commencement address. 

Priya Parkash, Trinity ’22, dubbed the University as its own “Duke nation,” but that central metaphor and other elements of her speech had striking similarities to Sarah Abushaar’s address at Harvard’s graduation in 2014. 

“We are aware of and concerned about these allegations and have initiated a process to understand the facts of the situation. Duke expects all students to abide by their commitment to the Duke Community Standard in everything they do as students,” Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, wrote in a message to The Chronicle Tuesday morning.

The Duke Community Standard reads, “To uphold the Duke Community Standard: I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors; I will conduct myself honorably in all my endeavors; and. I will act if the Standard is compromised.”

As of Tuesday morning, the University had also removed the transcript of the speech from the Duke Today website and deleted the video from the University’s YouTube channel. 

On Tuesday night, Parkash submitted a statement to The Chronicle through Dave Quast, senior vice president at Red Banyan, a crisis public relations firm. 

The statement read: “When I was asked to give the commencement speech, I was thrilled by such an honor and I sought advice from respected friends and family about topics I might address. I was embarrassed and confused to find out too late that some of the suggested passages were taken from a recent commencement speech at another university. I take full responsibility for this oversight and I regret if this incident has in any way distracted from the accomplishments of the Duke Class of 2022.”

Schoenfeld told The Chronicle in a message that Duke “was not involved” in Parkash’s statement. He added that “to the best of [his] knowledge,” the University “has never worked with" Red Banyan. 

When asked about Parkash’s statement that she “was asked to give” the speech, Schoenfeld wrote in a message that “all students could submit an application” to speak. 

According to the February call for applications, seniors interested in giving a speech had to submit a “brief speech outline of around 250 words” by March 1. Then, the selection committee chose “several finalists,” who were then required to “deliver draft speeches to the selection committee.” 

The selection process was changed this year to “make applying easier." Changes in the selection committee “put an emphasis on the student perspective,” according to the February release. 

Abushaar provided comment to The Harvard Crimson on Tuesday night. 

"The goal of my address was to inspire young people, and especially young women, from all backgrounds to break barriers in striving for their aims and to have the courage to use their voices to share their stories and serve as forces of good,” Abushaar wrote. “I hope that this incident was a serious error in judgment and that the student can take this opportunity to learn and grow from it.”

Editor's Note: This story was updated Wednesday afternoon to include Abushaar's comment to The Harvard Crimson. 


Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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