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A graduating student at Duke University faced heavy criticism after delivering a commencement address that shared “striking similarities” with a Harvard University graduation speech from 2014.
During her commencement ceremony on May 8, speaker Priya Parkash called her school “the Duke nation” and said it could become its own country due to its various associations and landmarks.
Parkash, who is originally from Pakistan, said that “if Duke were to dig a moat around its perimeter and fill that with water, it could be its own tiny island nation, like Cuba or maybe even Sri Lanka.”
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Duke’s student newspaper The Chronicle would later point out that several metaphors and rhetoric from Parkash’s speech have similarities to those from a previous commencement address at Harvard.
During her speech for Harvard’s Class of 2014, Sarah Abushaar mentioned “the Harvard nation” and declared that her university could be its own country if it “shut its gates.”
The Chronicle highlighted other lines from the two speeches that are seemingly too identical to be mere coincidence.
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Abushaar, who was raised in Kuwait, said that her campus’ statue of John Harvard is Harvard’s own Statue of Liberty, while the Harvard Alumni Association is its tax collection agency. Abushaar also noted that her university’s endowment is “larger than more than half of the world's countries' GDPs.”
Meanwhile, Parkash compared Duke’s statue of James Buchanan Duke to Christ the Redeemer, the iconic statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro. She also compared the Duke Alumni Association to a tax collection agency, noting that Duke’s endowment is “larger than the GDP of one third of the countries in the world.”
In both speeches, the speakers said their time at their respective universities gave them “diplomatic passports,” which helped them pass through U.S. immigration without any issues. Additionally, wearing university gear no longer made them a “national security threat” at the airport.
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“I made sure I dressed like our overly proud Harvard dads, with Harvard hat, Harvard shirt, Harvard shorts and Harvard underwear,” Abushaar shared.
“I would be sure to raid the Duke store like our overly enthusiastic Duke moms and dads sitting here today,” Parkash said in her speech. “We’re talking Duke cap, Duke sweatshirt, Duke sweatpants, Duke sunglasses, Duke slides and even Duke underwear.”
After successfully passing U.S. immigration, Abushar noted that “suddenly all the gates to the American Dream opened wide.” Meanwhile, Parkash said that “the doors to this whole new world of possibilities flung wide open.”
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Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, sent a statement to The Chronicle acknowledging the allegations and noted that they 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," he added.
On May 11, Parkash released a statement acknowledging the similarities between the two speeches, which she attributed to “suggested passages” by “respected friends and family.”
“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,” Parkash wrote. “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.”
Abushaar also released a statement via The Crimson, noting that she hopes Parkash can use the “serious error in judgment” as an “opportunity to learn and grow.”
“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,” she said.