Principal accused of plagiarizing Ashton Kutcher speech at graduation suspended

Hope Schreiber
·Writer

06/12/2019 UPDATE: A West Virginia principal, who students claim plagiarized Ashton Kutcher during his commencement speech to the graduating class, has been suspended for five days without pay.

Parkersburg High School Principal Kenny DeMoss delivered a public apology to the Wood County Board of Education, who voted 4-1 to suspend the DeMoss on Tuesday, according to The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards 2013 at the Gibson Amphitheatre on August 11, 2013 in Universal City, California. (Photo: Getty)
Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards 2013 at the Gibson Amphitheatre on August 11, 2013 in Universal City, California. (Photo: Getty)

“My intent in speaking tonight is to say I’m sorry. I am a proud graduate of PHS, have coached for 25 years and have been an administrator for seven years in this community. I would never purposefully bring shame to myself, my family, my school, our school system, or our community," DeMoss read from a prepared statement. “I made a mistake. I have brought a negative focus upon us and I deeply apologize. I hope that those disappointed in me will forgive me. Through this, I have learned valuable lessons and it is on me to earn your respect moving forward.”

DeMoss' speech initially drew attention when a student spliced footage from the May 23 commencement ceremony with Kutcher's original speech made at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards.

Kutcher appeared to make a tongue-in-cheek reference to the incident on Twitter Saturday, writing in part, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," and added the proper source, Oscar Wilde.

Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook issued a written statement as well.

"As superintendent of Wood County Schools, it is my responsibility to ensure all employees adhere to the employee code of conduct established by Wood County Schools and the West Virginia Department of Education. In this case, Mr. DeMoss is not disputing the mistake he made. He fully accepts responsibility for his actions and was disciplined appropriately."

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A graduating student at Parkersburg High School in West Virginia listened carefully to her principal's speech directed towards the class of 2019 graduates and found it oddly familiar. His address, the student found, was, essentially, identical to a speech made by Ashton Kutcher during the 2013 Teen Choice Awards.

Plagiarism is a crucial point in the school code of conduct, which strictly states, "Changing the words of an original source is not sufficient to prevent plagiarism. If you have retained the essential idea of an original source, and have not cited it, then matter how drastically you may have altered its context or presentation, you have still plagiarized."

A graduate, Abby Smith, highlighted the hypocrisies of the code of conduct with a video that spliced footage of her principal’s speech at her graduation ceremony with a clip of Ashton Kutcher accepting an award from the Teen Choice Awards in 2013.

Smith alleges that her principal, who directed Yahoo Lifestyle to the district's superintendent, who did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle's requests for comment, has blocked her on social media, adding that she was "infringing on the copyright of the company (Sweetsong) that took a graduation video." She stated that she "used the CAS Cable Livestream of the graduation" and was not claiming the video she included as her own.

The similarities between her edited video, which features the speech of her principal, as well as Ashton Kutcher's 2013 Teen Choice Awards acceptance speech, is rather uncanny.

"It's really three things that I want to share. And those who really know me know that I'm very blunt, to the point, so I'm going to spill the tea with you right now," principal Kenneth DeMoss said in his speech. "The first thing is about opportunity, the second thing is about being intriguing, and the third thing is about living life."

Kutcher, in his 2013 speech, said: "It's really three things. The first thing is about opportunity, the second thing is about being sexy, and the third thing is about living life."

"So first, the opportunity," principal DeMoss said in the graduation ceremony video. "I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. When I was a kid growing up, I didn't get paid to do chores. I had to do 'em. I had to run the vacuum cleaner, dust the house, clean my room, cut the grass. When I became 15, I had to get my first paid job working as a busboy, so I could pay for my own insurance to help drive my family car. I didn't have my own car, nor was I given one; the family had to share it. Then I got a job working as a waiter; then I got a job selling shoes at the mall, then I got a job being a laborer for a construction company carrying shingles up and down a ladder to a roof and cleaning up job sites. Sometimes I even did two jobs at once. At one point, I was juggling four part-time jobs, like going to college."

"And the greatest thing about that is that I never had a job, in my life that I was better than, that I was too good for," the principal continued in the speech delivered to graduates. "I was lucky to just have a job, and every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job. I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities, for me, looked like hard work."

Kutcher's speech in 2013 is relatively the same:

"So first opportunity. I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof. And then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job at a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground. I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job, and every job I had was just a stepping stone to my next job. I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so, opportunities, look a lot like work."

Principal DeMoss also added: “Be smart, be thoughtful, be generous." These are the exact words Kutcher used in his 2013 speech.

Kutcher referenced Steve Jobs in his acceptance speech, sharing what he learned when he appeared in the 2013 movie, Jobs. Principal DeMoss’ speech also referenced Steve Jobs and said, in part: “You can build your own things. You can build your own life that people can live in. So build a life, don't live one. Find your opportunities."

The actor’s original version from six years ago: "You can build your own things. You can build your own life that other people can live in. So build a life, don't live one, build one. Find your opportunity, and always be sexy. I love you guys."

Principal DeMoss ended his speech with, "I love you guys."

The student, Smith, as well as representatives for Wood County Schools, did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment. The principal directed Yahoo Lifestyle to the district's superintendent, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, A Google search for "best motivational speech for teens" yields Kutcher's 2013 speech as the second video result.

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