Heard this one before: West Boca principal’s 2014 speech dates to 2000

Updated June 05, 2015

When West Boca High’s principal urged graduating seniors last month to “resist the easy comforts of complacency” and “be worthy of your advantages,” it wasn’t the first time he passed off someone else’s commencement speech as his own.

Last year, Principal Mark Stenner gave graduates another speech that was similarly inspiring, imparting wisdom about the “secrets of life” through stories of the first prominent tightrope walker and England’s first Olympic ski jumper.

But Stenner lifted both performances from well-publicized graduation talks, both of which are included on an online list of “Top 10 commencement speeches.”

A video of Stenner’s speech at last year’s West Boca High graduation ceremony shows him instructing students to work to “become so proud of yourselves that when the cameras turn away you can go home alone and say to yourself, ‘Oh, it was brilliant.’”

But his anecdotes and sage advice were lifted entirely from a 2000 graduation speech by University of Texas psychology professor Marc S. Lewis.

The revelation comes a day after the news that Stenner plagiarized his speech to graduates last month, lifting it almost word for word from an acclaimed 2012 speech by a Massachusetts high school teacher.

That speech, in which Massachusetts English teacher David McCullough Jr. told students they were “not special” and that “it’s where you go from here that matters,” gained national media attention and acclaim for its straight talk. It drew millions of views on YouTube and led to a book deal.

As Stenner’s co-opting of the speeches came to light Thursday, the Palm Beach County School District launched an investigation and briefly removed a recording of this year’s speech from its website.

Stenner acknowledged Thursday to the Sun-Sentinel that he should have given McCullough credit for this year’s speech. He did not return calls Friday to discuss last year’s speech.

In both cases, recordings show him reciting abbreviated versions of other people’s speeches almost verbatim. But in neither case does he cite the speech’s author or indicate that he didn’t write it himself.