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DeMoss issues apology, statement for graduation speech

Photo by Michael Erb Principal Kenny DeMoss gives closing remarks May 23 during Parkersburg High School’s 2019 graduation ceremony. Critics say DeMoss plagiarized a speech given by actor Ashton Kutcher in 2013, but while DeMoss said he copied the format, he simply failed to cite Kutcher as one of many inspirations for his speech.

PARKERSBURG — A Parkersburg principal accused of plagiarizing a graduation speech issued a statement on Facebook Wednesday, saying his mistake was in not citing his sources and it was not his intent to copy someone else’s work.

Critics say the speech given by Principal Kenny DeMoss at Parkersburg High School’s May 23 graduation ceremony was largely the same as a speech given by actor Ashton Kutcher in 2013 at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.

Parkersburg High School graduate Abby Smith posted a video to YouTube splicing DeMoss’ graduation speech with Kutcher’s speech. The two speeches use similar phrases and wording throughout, as well as the same format, and while parts of the principal’s speech do differ, other phrases are word-for-word the same.

The video has been shared through social media hundreds of times and viewed thousands of times online.

In an online interview Thursday, Smith said the similarity of the two speeches was brought to her attention by classmates at an after-graduation party. When she viewed the videos, she was “shocked” and decided to splice them together and share it online.

“Many people agree that what he did was dishonest,” she said.

DeMoss sent an audio message to parents Wednesday evening and posted the statement on the Parkersburg High School Facebook page.

“As a proud father and a man of faith, I want to sincerely apologize to those I have obviously offended,” DeMoss said in the message. “It was never my intent to take credit for what I said or give specific credit because of how I prefaced my speech.”

DeMoss said the opening of his speech, which referenced “many great ideas and thoughts that have helped me be who I am today,” was intended as a disclaimer to “preface that these ideas and thoughts that I am about to share, I have heard before, from others, and along with my personal beliefs, have shaped me into who I am as a man, a father, and leader. In hindsight, I wish I would have cited more.”

DeMoss said he was upset the focus from last week’s graduation had shifted from the accomplishments of his students to his words during the ceremony.

“When I began my closing remarks at graduation, I didn’t think that my speech would be the center of attention. The graduates should be,” he said in his statement. “It is really sad to think that the focus has fallen more on about my closing remarks and I am deeply sorry for that.”

Smith said DeMoss’ apology, and explanation, falls short.

“I didn’t see it as an apology, but as a deflection, which is all too common in our public discourse,” said the 18-year-old Smith, who plans to attend West Virginia University this fall to study organizational leadership and political science. “I think that Mr. DeMoss holds a position of authority and leadership in Parkersburg High. If I am held to a high standard, I believe that my administrators and faculty should also be held to the same standard.

“It’s all about accountability.”

DeMoss said while he had seen Kutcher’s speech, he has “heard and seen many similar speeches at coaching and leadership clinics and at professional development that many of you have not. The format of Ashton’s speech I liked the most, because it had the most impact on me. I did not get all my ideas from Ashton. Format yes, (but the) thoughts and ideas were from my heart.”

Though DeMoss said he takes the blame for not citing his sources, he believes there would have been too many citations to fit within the format of the graduation ceremony and his closing address.

“Saying something in which I receive no money for, or academic credit, or a transcribed grade is what led me to not be as specific as I should have been, instead of prefacing with a blanketed statement,” he said. “And unfortunately when I don’t cite everyone, I’m personally taking a hit. Lesson learned for me.”

“In the future, anything that is spoken by me or any other administrator to the public, if it has been said by anyone else, it will be cited.”

Smith said reaction to her post has been largely supportive, though she has received some pushback “from adults (who) don’t view what he did as dishonest or wrong.

“I just wanted people to know the truth. The way (DeMoss) and others reacts to it is up to them.”

Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter and was being investigated.

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